Russell Westbrook: King of the steals

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Football News

Fresh off the mid-season All-Star extravaganza, fans have not only had a suitable chance to cherish and celebrate the career of Kobe Bryant, but they were also treated to the usual offensive exhibition as the West beat the East 196-173 to set a scoring record in the All-Star event.

Most basketball enthusiasts will know the All-Star event typically negates sound defensive mechanics in favour of some audacious offensive plays – as typified by Steph Curry’s half-court effort to finish proceedings in Toronto, because, why not?

But in amongst Paul George and his 41 points, Kobe’s final fadeaways and Curry’s three-point bombs, the dirtier side of the game took a backseat – the defence.

Dirty Work

In any sport, the attacking elements are far ‘sexier’ than the defence. That notion rings true in basketball too, where you could argue the greatest players have a handle on both. It’s worth noting that Michael Jordan was a NINE time NBA all-defensive first team.

The NBA may be a faster league that it once was, but the point guards still have all the tools to pick-pocket at will. A glance at the top five stealers in the game right now shows four participants from the All-Star game.

One could argue that stealing the ball is the hardest skill in basketball, defensively. Bearing in mind Basketball is a non-contact sport (for all intents and purposes), to be able to slap the ball away from well protected big men or lighting quick floor stretchers is no small feat.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Westbrook – who just nabbed his second All-Star MVP in a row – leads the charts with 2.3 steals per game on average. The California-born point guard is more recognisable to fans as a habitual triple-double grabber with explosive jam tendencies.

But, it just goes to show he gets the dirty work done too. Considering the 27-year-old is second in assists in the league with an average of 10 a night and seventh overall in points scored a game with 24.1, he has to be showing signs of MVP form with his broad range of work.

Westbrook also contributes 7.6 rebounds per night with puts him 32nd in the league. At 6’3”, he’s more effective on the boards than Tim Duncan, Al Horford and LeBron James. That’s compelling evidence Westbrook is prepared to get his hands dirty.

It’s debatable that Westbrook’s excellent work can get lost in the shadow of Kevin Durant, but franchise names like Curry and Paul also residing on the steals list indicate it may be a subconscious negligence on the public’s behalf that leads to some of their good work going unnoticed.

It’s what they bring to the table going forward that we’ve become accustom to lauding and frankly, enjoying. Curry is hitting a league-best 29.8 points on average every night for the Golden State Warriors while Paul - who is currently fourth in dime dropping with an average of 9.4 a game - has long been considered one of the best dishers in the league.

A novice view might conclude that the typically smaller point guards have a distinct advantage getting low and grabbing steals, but three forwards in the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza (7th), the Atlanta Hawks’ Paul Millsap (9th) and Indiana Pacers’ George (10th) all feature in the top ten league stealers.

So, that should dispel the notion that these great players fill the steals column purely because of the position they play in – there’s an art to it.

Westbrook only pips the following three players in the steals list by 0.1 a game with Lowry, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio and Paul all on 2.2 a night, but how many times have we seen the man at the Oklahoma one spot bursting down the court for a breakaway dunk?

It’s the gritty work that a lot of the ‘sexy’ plays we know and love possible. Curry may be the reining MVP, but he, and the Warriors as a whole have a regimented defence that allows them to have a higher possession total than most.

A superstar like Curry isn’t exempt of that dog-work, instead, he embodies it.

Who knows, maybe defence is becoming sexier?

Chris Paul
L.A. Clippers
Pacific Division
Western Conference

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