Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is part of a small minority who think Russell Westbrook is not a superstar. Earlier this week, he stated that the Thunder only has one superstar on its roster (Kevin Durant) and that Westbrook was just an All-Star.
The point guard’s numbers from the regular season, though, would appear to tell a completely different story. He had a career-best year averaging 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game.
On top of that, he had a league-high 18 triple doubles, tying Magic Johnson for the most in a single season. Any player mentioned in the same breath as the NBA Hall of Famer must be special and that is certainly what Westbrook is, regardless of what others may think.
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He may divide opinions because of his demeanor on and off the court, but his talent and standing in the league are unquestionable.
So far in the playoffs, the five-time All-Star has picked up where he left off in the 82-game campaign, enjoying a terrific series against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 26 points, which saw OKC progress to the Western Conference semi-finals to set up a mammoth showdown with the San Antonio Spurs.
The matchup between the two teams will be their third postseason meeting over the last five seasons in what has become something of a friendly rivalry.
It’ll be Westbrook and Kevin Durant versus Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in easily the standout series of the second round.
In the 2013-14 playoffs, when the two sides met in the conference finals, Westbrook averaged 26.3 points per game against the Spurs, which included a breakout game of 40 points and 10 assists which tied the series – that the Spurs eventually went on to win - at 2-2.
Westbrook has faced San Antonio 12 times in the playoffs, winning six meetings.
In his career against the Spurs, Westbrook has managed to have his way and be dominant on both ends of the floor. Why? Because Gregg Popovich’s team just don’t match up well with him.
With two-time Defensive Player of the Year Leonard expected to spend much of his time guarding Durant, Westbrook can expect to see multiple bodies sent his way throughout the course of the series.
Tony Parker and Danny Green are likely to be the players who spend the most time going up against the dynamic guard, but make no mistake about it; whoever takes on the task is in for a hell of a ride.
Westbrook is relentless, possibly the greatest athlete ever to grace the hardwood. He plays with a ferocious intensity and speed that is almost impossible to guard.
With Leonard, the Spurs have had success in slowing down Durant, but Westbrook is a different animal and will be the major factor for OKC in this best-of-seven series.
If anybody can tame Westbrook, it’ll surely be the Spurs, the best defensive team in the league. They were probably the only outfit to successfully neutralise the threat of Steph Curry during the regular season and that is by no means an easy feat.
So expect Popovich to have a master plan for Westbrook, but having an answer for the triple-double machine will prove tricky.
The UCLA product can score in multiple ways and can also hurt opponents with the playmaking ability that he has now perfected, something that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle alluded to after being eliminated by the Thunder.
"I thought Westbrook played beautiful basketball this year," he said. "I don't think there were many people in the basketball world who thought he'd be able to turn his game into both a scoring and distributing game, but he led the league in triple-doubles.
So how will the Spurs deal with the threat of Westbrook? There’s no doubt that Popovich, being a defensive genius, will spend hours figuring out a masterplan for his players to follow.
The 27-year-old OKC guard loves to drive to the basket and finish in traffic and is not afraid of any contact. Therefore, the Spurs will have to try and force him into contested jump shots and collapse into the paint to give him little room to operate.
There will certainly be a target on his head and the Spurs will do everything they can to make things tough for the point guard.
Westbrook, however, is such a threat offensively and defensively, that he may neutralize any plan San Antonio puts together, which makes this matchup all the more intriguing.
For those who doubt Westbrook’s ability and, like Cuban, are not convinced he deserves superstar status, this is the time and the stage in which he can prove them wrong.
One thing is for sure, though, basketball fans the world over will be treated to a terrific series and it all gets underway on Saturday in game one at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.