Westbrook keeps charging ahead

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dennis Scott and Jerry Stackhouse discuss Russell Westrbrook and the Thunder’s defense.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It ain’t easy being Russell Westbrook.

On the same night LeBron James essentially conceded the MVP race to Westbrook’s more affable, more approachable and all-around great-guy-of-a-superstar teammate, Kevin Durant, Westbrook went full bionic mode on Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers.

He delivered the goods on a night Durant couldn’t drop it in the nearby Pacific. Mr. Efficiency went 8-for-26 and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, although his one long ball was a drop-dead killer late in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook’s 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting, 11 rebounds — including two superhero-style, swooping offensive boards during the tense, final two minutes — six assists, two steals and one turnover in 33 minutes essentially sealed the 107-101 victory and locked up the No. 2 seed for the Thunder.

It’s a good thing Westbrook — he who shoots too much, facilitates for Durant too little, drives to the rim too wildly, coughs it into the first row too often and generally runs the offense with the court IQ of a Gatorade cooler — churns critics’ persistent negativity into fuel.

Can’t win a title with Westbrook … Durant deserves a pass-first point guard … Doesn’t he get it? He’s Pippen, not Jordan!

It’s not that some criticism is not without merit. Yet, with Westbrook as his point guard, Durant is on his way to a fourth scoring title in five seasons. Had he not eased off the gas a year ago to allow Carmelo Anthony his only crown, it’d be five in a row since Westbrook’s second season.

When Westbrook’s third surgery on his right knee in eight months sidelined him from Dec. 26 through the All-Star break, Durant averaged 35.0 ppg on 22.4 shot attempts per game. Since Westbrook’s return on Feb. 20, Durant has averaged 32.0 ppg on 20.6 shot attempts.

From Westbrook’s debut in the third game of the season following a second surgery, until he would unsuspectingly need a third surgery after his Christmas Day triple-double, Westbrook averaged 17.3 shot attempts in 32.9 mpg. In 18 games back, he’s averaging 16.0 shot attempts in 27.5 mpg.

Westbrook’s numbers in 43 games played are 21.7 ppg, 6.9 apg and 5.7 rpg. From his first stint to his second, Westbrook’s scoring average and shooting percentage are up; his shot attempts and turnovers, albeit slightly, are down (and so, too, are his minutes by design). The ferocity with which he attacks the rim and sacrifices his body for loose balls never waned even when it only seemed natural that it should.

Yet that courageous aspect to his rudely interrupted season seems more often swept aside.

If the Thunder don’t win the championship come June, or worse, they don’t get out of the ruthless Western Conference, anvil-weighted blame will undoubtedly land in the lap of whichever pair of chaotic-print chinos Westbrook will be wearing.

It doesn’t seem to matter that at age 22 he was the Thunder’s point guard when they advanced to the Western Conference finals. Or that at 23 he was the point guard when the Thunder fell to the Year 2 Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Or that a season ago he was the point guard of a 60-win Thunder team, one favored to give the Heat a rematch before Rockets guard Patrick Beverley undercut him in the first round and ripped his meniscus.

Now 25, the same age as the ever-evolving Durant and the ever-improving Serge Ibaka, Westbrook’s critics seem to judge him as if a finished product: a delightfully athletic specimen, but one lacking the intellect or desire or selflessness, or all three, to mature, to refine, to gain perspective, to make better on-court decisions. It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s an eyelash shy of averaging at least 7.0 apg in four of his six seasons, or that he’s twice averaged more than 8.0.

For years the rumbling has been that he and Durant aren’t made for each other, that Westbrook’s flinging will ultimately drive Durant crazy enough to seek a more deferential running mate. Durant, of course, has only professed admiration and joy for his partner.

They are of differing personalities to be sure — Durant being the silky smooth operator and Westbrook the unbroken mustang — but nevertheless capable of winning titles, plural, together. Durant is signed through 2016; Westbrook through 2017.

Yet if these two stars ever do part, championship or not, it will likely be Westbrook, and not Durant, who forces the split, weary of the scrutiny and subsequent blame or lack of recognition for whatever happens from here on out.

For now, by all accounts, they eagerly and willfully, and thankfully so for basketball fans, chase glory together.

9 Comments

  1. marty says:

    Westbrook may play with the most force in the whole league.And I like that he could care less of critiques in the media.

  2. johnny dawson says:

    Westbrook is Byron Scott on steroids.

  3. okc2014 says:

    I am amazed at the chemistry Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have. When they are hot, nobody has an answer for them. Go OKC!

  4. OKC says:

    When people talk about Russell taking shots from KD or about whose team is it I am shocked. Do people not realize how lucky we are to have two stars that actually get along!? Anyone remember Shaq and Penny, Shaq and Kobe, Kobe and Dwight, or any of the other star combinations that didn’t mesh?

  5. BULLZ says:

    IF WESTBROOK WANTS TO BE MVP AND BE THE ONLY SUPERSTAR ON HIS TEAM, HE WILL JOIN THE CHICAGO BULLS.

    PG: RUSSELL “POTATO” WESTBROOK
    SG: KYLE “MILE” KORVER
    SF: MIKE “IKE” DUNLEAVY
    PF: DAVID “EAST” WEST
    C: HASHEEM “THE BEAT” THABEET

    BENCH: JOAKIM NOAH (NEEDS TO BECOME A STUDENT OF THE GAME)
    TEAM MANAGER: DERRICK ROSE

    CHAMPIONSHIP ROSTER ONCE THE “POTATO” IS UNLEASHED
    GO BULLZ!!!

  6. Luis says:

    I think Russ is better than D. Rose, and D. Rose got an MVP. His desire to stay in a team where he’ll always be seen as second fiddle is unselfishness in itself, and a desire to win with the rest of his teammates. On the other hand, I don’t think KD wants to carry this team by himself, and he’s learned that he can’t be a champion without Russ carrying some of the burden (last year’s playoffs). So if both want to play together, it really is just the media making this an issue.

  7. Jintan says:

    Westbrook is an amazing player, he demands so much attention from defenses that he makes the team better as a whole. Plus there’s no such a thing as a day he’s not “feeling himself”, he’s at 100% intensity all the time. That helps a team too. He’s a bit reckless but everyone has their “cons”, even stars.