Frustrating, out of control, erratic, those are just a few of the words that can (and have) been used to describe Russell Westbrook over the years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder speedster has often come under criticism for his kamikaze style of play on the offensive end because he has a tendency to barrel through defences without giving it a moment’s thought decipher his options first. That would be fine if he wasn’t jacking up those shots at such a high clip and failing to convert a great many of them.
Consequently he has been subject to a slew of criticism because it takes his teammates out of the game at times, including the newly crowned Most Valuable Player.
When it pertains to Kevin Durant, it seems to the backlash multiplies ten-fold with the common theme being that Westbrook doesn’t know (or want to accept) his role as the “Robin” to Durant’s Batman, since he often takes more shots. As a result, the game’s most potent scorer is typically frozen out of the game for several possessions, leading to questions as to whether the partnership actually works.
Although, when you looking at the way the Oklahoma City play, perhaps it is a necessity.
The Thunder’s offense essentially consists of Scott Brooks handing the ball to either Durant or Westbrook and saying “make something happen for us.” And as the point guard, the ball is typically in the hands of the Westbrook, therefore he calls his number quite a bit because quite frankly no-one else can consistently put the ball in the basket.
Ever since they shipped out James Harden and Kevin Martin wound up in Minnesota, the Thunder don’t have a reliable go to guy to be their clear cut third scoring option.
Serge Ibaka could be such player but he earns his keep on the defensive end, which is a shame because he has the potential to be one heck of a scorer.
At 6’10” and a well sculpted 250lb, Ibaka is a physical specimen with incredible athleticism, an aspect of his game he displayed during the 2011 dunk contest as “Air Congo” took off from the free-throw line. Furthermore, he possesses a deadly mid-range jumpshot which has enabled him to put together incredible shooting performances such as the 11 for11 masterpiece against the San Antonio Spurs in 2012.
His range has now increased all the way out to the 3point line, so combined that with his athletic ability, you have a potentially devastating scorer. Think Dwight Howard, with a jumpshot at his disposal. Pretty scary, right?
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Howard’s superstar mentality which enables him to demand the ball in order to impose his will on offense.
Another who has the potential to do so is Jeremy Lamb, but he too has his struggles.
Coming out of Connecticut with a reputation as smooth scorer a la Joe Johnson, Lamb appeared to be a tailor made for the position and he was supposed to be the answer as Kevin Martin’s successor. However he too hasn’t been able to stake his claim for the part.
So with that said, without Westbrook, it’s hard to envision Oklahoma City as a Championship contender. His constant attack mode keeps defences honest, meaning the rest of the team get a little extra the room to operate and be a threat - including Kevin Durant.
Were it not for Westbrook, it would be a lot easier for teams to throw double teams at him because they wouldn’t have to worry about someone else going off.
You could argue OKC’s 20-7 record without him earlier in the season proves the team can function without the high flying point guard, but you also have to consider that the run came at a time when Durant was simply unplayable.
He torched anyone who dared to try and stop him, putting up a record 12 straight games with at least 30 points with a couple 50 point outings squeezed in there. Nonetheless, it would be difficult to maintain such performances over an extended period of time like, say, a full regular season.
Plus it’s not like Russell Westbrook is quite the villain he has been made out to be. He is averaging 8 assists per game in addition to scoring 26 points a night during these Playoffs. Those are impressive numbers by anyone’s standards.
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