Russell Westbrook is doing a better Kobe Bryant impersonation (in his role as super sidekick) than even Bryant himself. In this years finals, Westbrook is posting 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds per game. He has played 84 out of a possible 96 minutes during the series. He has harassed Dwyane Wade up and down the court on defense, frustrating the superstar into shooting 43% from the floor. He has dazzled crowds with his breathtaking athleticism, turbo charged speed, and acrobatic assaults on the rim.
So why is Westbrook public enemy #1?
You see, Russell Westbrook shares a locker room with one of the three or four greatest wing scorers of all time. The list of people in the conversation? Jordan, Iverson, Kobe, Jerry West… the group is exclusive. If you have ever seen Durant play, you know that he glides around the court, effortlessly finding his spots and elevating for that buttery-smooth jumper. Nobody can stop him from getting his shot off- he has good lift and stands a gargantuan 6’10. He is the only superstar who can score 35 points and have announcers shrug it off as ‘a quiet 35’. Durant was made to score points like Martin Luther King Jr. was meant to lead.
And so when Russell Westbrook barrels down the floor at 100 mph, throws his body into the heart of the defense, and misses a difficult layup as Durant stands by idly, it is hard not to become frustrated. If Steve Nash were at the helm, wouldn’t Durant be averaging 40 points by now?
The problem is, Russell Westbrook is very good at basketball. Very, very good. He’s an NBA all star. He’s an Olympian. He’s a Youtube hall of famer. The Thunder need him. He’s arguably the best second-best player in the NBA. As Bill Simmons put it:
Westbrook is like a crazy relative you’d invite to your Thanksgiving dinner. He brings the Thanksgiving Turkey, the buttery rolls, the sweet potatoes, and a homemade cranberry sauce. But, he goes home with the gravy and the stuffing. Without him, theres no turkey. But with him, you don’t have the luxury of enjoying two key elements of a thanksgiving feast.
Doesn’t that make sense? Westbrook brings unparalleled athletic ability, pestering defense, and about 20-25 points to the table. He takes away about 5-7 open looks for Durant each game, though. Durant has the ability to go off for 45 each night, but that’s not when the Thunder are at their best. Westbrook could do his thing, and shoot the rock 25 times, but that isn’t it either. The Thunder must find a way in which both of their superstars can remain aggressive and not step on each other’s toes. Unfortunately for Westbrook, he must be the one to adapt. If Thunder management is made to choose between the two, Durant is going to win, and Russell will be packing his bags. He must adjust carefully. Less pull up jumpers, more penetration. If he wants more shots, he should push the ball up the floor. If the Thunder are in a half court set, he needs to be content playing off the ball and letting the offense run through Durant. #35 eats first.
If the Thunder can figure out their alpha dog issues, they could potentially be a dynasty in the making.
As for the rest of us? We can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the performance. I don’t know about you, but now I’m craving a thanksgiving turkey.