Russell Westbrook: The Ultimate X-Factor
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook’s ability to single-handedly win or lose a game makes him the biggest X-Factor in the NBA.
Westbrook, as he’s shown so far throughout his young NBA career, has the type of game-changing talent that either propels Oklahoma City to a win or leads to a defeat. So far this season Westbrook has done a better job of keeping his game under control and the Thunder have the best record in the NBA at 17-4 to show for it.
Westbrook gave a nod and a shrug when told the type of effect he has on games – for better or worse.
“I just come out and try to do my job and find a way to get a win and help us close the game out,” Westbrook told HOOPSWORLD. “Whatever is it; it may be defensively or whatever it may be.”
With the type of speed and athleticism Westbrook wields, it’s easy to see why he’s such a force on the court. Arguably the fastest player in the NBA with a basketball in his hand, Westbrook is virtually unstoppable on the break and has no qualms blowing by even the most seasoned defenders in this league.
Considering that type of playmaking ability and with the ball in his hands at the point position on nearly every possession, there’s also the tendency for Westbrook to try to do too much. In last year’s Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks Westbrook took unwarranted, contested shots (he shot just 39 percent for the series) and turned the ball over nearly five times a game.
Even with Kevin Durant averaging 28 points a contest, the Thunder were muffled out of the playoffs in just five games because the team’s spark at point guard was taken out of his game.
Contrast that with just last night against the Mavs when Westbrook scored 12 of his game-high 33 points – including the game-sealing three-pointer with 35.2 left, gun-slinging gesture and all – and led them to a 95-86 victory in Dallas.
At this point in his career, Westbrook’s hit or miss play is something Thunder fans are just going to have to live with. In the grand scheme of things Westbrook is just as important to Oklahoma City’s ultimate goal of a championship as Durant – and Durant would be the first person to tell you that.
“He’s a point guard and great point guards help you win championships, help you win basketball games,” Durant said. “I’m not saying we’re going to win a championship but we’re moving into the right direction. Every game he’s key for us and he’s a guy that can score the basketball, pass, rebound, defend and then [he’s] a bigger guard – we have an advantage when we have him on the floor. He’s been getting better, shooting percentage is going up, he’s taking good shots, he’s attacking and that’s what we need from him.”
In fact, Durant believes Westbrook should be in the same conversation as him for league MVP.
“I think so,” Durant said of Westbrook’s MVP consideration. “Just with the stuff he’s doing. I can’t name the stats offhand but the numbers he’s putting up is MVP numbers…to him it’s all about the team and that stuff comes last.”
Turnovers have still been an issue early on this season – Westbrook is averaging four giveaways a game thus far – but like it or not, this team’s title hopes rest on Westbrook.
“He has the ability to do a lot of things for us,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s one of those guys that can fill a stat sheet. A lot of guys in the league can’t do that. There are a couple things they do well: Russell can do a lot of things well. The turnovers, that’s always problematic with our team. We try to get all of our guys to cut theirs down 20 percent – that would put us right where it should be, but we are an aggressive team.
“Russell is the leader at that point guard position. That puts us in position to make most games that we play a fourth quarter game, puts us in a chance to win.”
Even though it may result in some turnovers and out-of-control possessions for this Thunder team, Brooks finds himself trying to find a tricky middle-ground with Westbrook’s style of play. Even though there are going to be some negative results, Brooks doesn’t want to take away the aggressiveness that makes Westbrook so explosive on the court.
“He knows that he has things to get better at but he has to be an aggressive player,” Brooks said. “He has to be able to attack and he has to be able to make plays for others because he does draw a lot of attention with his ability to get to the rim as quick as anyone in this league.”
That being said, Brooks says Westbrook, along with the rest of the Thunder, has plenty of room to improve.
“I think Russell is doing a great job of getting better,” Brooks said. “Not a lot of guys you could say have had the first four years that he’s had. [He] never played the point in college. He’s come in with a young team and really took us to a good place, but he has to continue to improve and get better like the rest of the guys and the thing I love about him is he understands that.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who’s seen the type of backlash first hand that Westbrook receives when things aren’t going right for Oklahoma City, says the critiques aren’t justified.
“For me, when things go bad with the team, [Westbrook] always gets the villain side of it and it’s unfair to him,” Perkins said.
Perkins also believes neither Westbrook nor Durant have scratched the surface of the type of player they’re going to be in this league.
“At the end of the day I think him and Kevin, as far as their upside, they’ve got a long way to go and that’s scary because each year they just get better,” Perkins said. “So as long as they stay with open minds and the way they’ve been doing and continue to work, I think as far as just the individual talent, the sky’s the limit.”
Whether it’s the head coach, superstar player or the center protecting the rim down low, the Thunder believe Westbrook is the difference on the floor. Regardless of if you love him or hate him, this team goes as Westbrook goes. Thunder fans hope the positives outweigh the negatives and this team can ride Westbrook all the way to the first NBA title in franchise history.
Derek’s weekly chat kicks up again this Saturday at 5PM EST. You can get a head start by submitting your questions in early by clicking here.