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Russell Westbrook .

Russell Westbrook finally takes the lead role to get OKC moving in the right direction

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There have been many bumps in the road and a lot of "figuring things out" but the Oklahoma City Thunder are finally clicking into gear and look like the contenders many predicted early in the season.

Following their summer acquisitions of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, many people tipped OKC to be the closest challengers to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference this season but have struggled for much of the campaign.

Integrating three ball-dominant players into one team was always going to take time and require adjustments as they had to get used to different roles.

But as Melo and George continuously pointed out, they needed Westbrook not to change his style and play in his normal fashion in order for them to be successful and he has finally taken that advice and the results have improved dramatically.

MVP Level

The reigning MVP did his best to accommodate his new teammates early on and reduced his usage rate, shot attempts and scoring in the month of November.

But he has increased his numbers in all three categories this month and it has led to the Thunder going on a six-game winning streak.

In their last two outings, they secured impressive back-to-back wins over the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors, who both sit second in their respective conferences.

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

During the winning run, Westbrook is averaging 30 points per game on 56 percent shooting.

Anthony is in no doubt that the explosive point guard's play has been the catalyst for their improvement and said they need him to perform in that manner and are more than happy to follow his lead.

"I think the fact that Russ is just playing -- not trying to defer to anybody, to any one of us -- just playing his game and letting us play off him ... I think he's much more effective by doing that rather than deferring to myself or Paul," Anthony said.

"We know what we bring to the game. We understand it. We accept it. And by that, he's able to just play his game, relax and do what he does best. We need that. We need that Russ out there. Not the one who defers to us. Let us figure it out."

Oklahoma City Thunder v Indiana Pacers

After an 8-12 start, they've turned things around and are now 20-15, which has moved them to fifth in the west and only a couple of games back of fourth.

Efficiency

Westbrook has been on a tear and has enjoyed a more efficient stretch thanks to his shot selection over the six victories.

The eight-time All-Star is shooting just 31.4 percent from three-point range this season and has limited his attempts from the beyond the arc and focused on shots from mid-range and inside the paint during the winning streak.

Head coach Billy Donovan believes this new approach has made him more efficient and has allowed others to play well with him.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Indiana Pacers

"He's taken really good shots. He's getting to his spots on the floor," Donovan said.

"He is really confident in those shots, and I think he missed a lot of those shots early in the year, and I do think a lot of that had to do with him trying to incorporate these other guys and thinking less of himself.

"But there's no question he's the catalyst to our team, both offensively and defensively."

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

Oklahoma City has always been one of the top five defenses in the league throughout the season but has surprisingly had problems on the other end despite possessing incredible firepower.

But thanks to the play of their superstar, OKC is now heading in the right direction and are becoming dangerous on both ends of the floor.

This is the Thunder we've all been waiting for and they've finally arrived and will pose a major threat for the rest of the year.

Topics:
Northwest Division
Western Conference
NBA
Russell Westbrook
Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George
Indiana Pacers
Central Division
Eastern Conference

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