HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Not everyone is enamored with the antics and other animations that come along with Russell Westbrook‘s game. We can’t tell you how many times someone has emailed complaining about his holstering-the-six-shooters celebration after draining a 3-pointer or the chest pounding he does after a wicked dunk.
But is there anyone out there still crazy enough to deny that the Thunder’s All-Star point guard has become an absolute force of nature this season?
(And yes, even without Derrick Rose on the floor for the Bulls yesterday, Westbrook was a sight to behold.)
This is not just a one-game reaction. It’s been a season filled with signature moments from the Thunder star (not named Kevin Durant) that has forced many of us who were critical of Westbrook’s game in the past to reconsider our evaluations of what work he could do in a tandem with one of the league’s other bright young stars.
It certainly helps to have a veteran “big brother” like Kendrick Perkins around to keep these young stars grounded. It also helps that Perkins isn’t afraid to tell Westbrook and Durant exactly what they need to hear at this stage of their careers, in regards to how they navigate this delicate whose-team-is-it-anyway dynamic that has caused so much fuss the past two seasons.
In fact, it was a heart-to-heart with Perkins that helped Westbrook settle into the zone he’s in right now — he’s averaging 28.2 points, 5.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds while shooting better than 50 percent (.507) from the floor. More from Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman:
Westbrook used Sunday’s 92-78 win over Chicago to confirm what has been clear for weeks: he’s in the midst of the best ball of his career.
“He’s grown up right in front of our eyes,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Over the past six games, Westbrook has averaged 28.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting. He’s added 5.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and just 2.5 turnovers.
Beyond the raw numbers, Westbrook has demolished nearly every opponent he’s faced in the past six games, and it’s how he’s attacked his assignments that has stood out most.
The winning streak started with Westbrook thoroughly outplaying Clippers guard Chris Paul. Westbrook scored just 19 points but was terrific defending the pick-and-roll and limiting Paul’s effectiveness. Two nights later, Westbrook scored a career-high 45 points in 50 minutes against Minnesota and never lost his head against the always irritating J.J. Barea.Last Sunday against Miami, Westbrook played through a 4-for-16 shooting night and remained sound defensively while continuing to get teammates involved offensively. Against Portland and the Lakers last week, Westbrook was simply unstoppable, scoring 32 and 36 points, respectively.
And with the Bulls playing without Derrick Rose (groin) on Sunday, Westbrook abused backup C.J. Watson in the post, in transition, in the pick-and-roll and from his sweet spot, the free-throw line extended elbow. His final line: a game-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, three rebounds, five assists, four steals, zero turnovers and zero fouls.
“To me, he’s fearless,” said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau. “He sets the tone for them. All you have to do is look at their record. That says a lot.”
More impressive, and much more important to us, is the growth in Westbrook’s game that has been evident from the start of the season until now.
We pounded on Westbrook early in the season for his high turnover numbers, which is really not that shocking for a player who handles the ball as much as he does. In the 34 games before the All-Star break he averaged 4.2 turnovers. But in the 17 games since, that number has shrunk to 2.8.
Those people wanting to write Westbrook off after he struggled during the playoffs last season, particularly in the Western Conference finals, need to man up and give the kid his due. It’s time. And he’s earned it.