When Oklahoma City Thunder “point guard” Russell Westbrook woke up to the news that his superstar teammate and reigning MVP Kevin Durant had a Jones fracture in his foot that could sideline him for approximately two months, the tune of LMFAO’s “Shots!” rang through Westbrook’s head, except the shots he was dreaming of were a little different than what is being referenced in the song.
For the first time in his career, Durant will miss an extended amount of time, propelling Westbrook into the alpha dog role for the Thunder. Westbrook has long been criticized for holding the Thunder back, with analysts complaining that he takes the ball out of Durant’s hands and hoists up too many inefficient shots.
Well, it’s now Westbrook’s time to silence all the haters, and I am excited to see him lead a team and prove that he, too, is a true franchise player.
Quick disclaimer: when I say that I am excited to see Westbrook’s solo act for the next two months, it is strictly on the basis that this is a two-month test drive. Durant is one of the most exciting players in the league, and an NBA where he is not playing is a significantly worse NBA. I am merely just excited to see what Westbrook can do for two months, and then I pray that he and the “Slim Reaper” will be reunited, so go ahead and put down your pitchforks.
Now back to the “Shots!” It is no secret that Westbrook loves shooting the ball. He has averaged over 17 shot attempts per game in each of the past four seasons, an absurd amount for a “point guard.” Two years ago, he even averaged more shot attempts than Durant (18.7 versus 17.7), while scoring nearly five fewer points per game.
That is where Westbrook has encountered his toughest critics. Analysts always complain that he takes too many shots away from Durant and settles for less efficient pull-up jumpers.
Given that Westbrook had a tough time sharing the ball even with Durant on the floor, the green light in Westbrook’s head will be shining even brighter as the ball will be in his hands even more.
That’s the part I am most excited about actually. Westbrook has one mode, and it’s “Go! Go! Go!” Chaos defines his game, and with the ball in his hands for larger portions each contest, disorder will reign over every Thunder matchup.
Westbrook in transition might be the most electrifying play in the NBA today, as watching him barrel down the court through or over any defender in his way continues to terrify me. There is still no one who can keep him out of the paint in the half court on one of his ferocious drives.
Westbrook makes at least one play per game that makes me jump out of my chair, and now with even more usage, that could jump to two or three jaw-dropping plays per game. Even if the Thunder’s performance drops off, they will still be one of the most entertaining teams in the league, and Westbrook is the primary reason for that.
Even with the MVP’s absence for the first few months, I expect the Thunder to remain in the playoff hunt in the wild, wild Western Conference because Westbrook is a legitimate top 10 NBA player. He has always had eye popping numbers, averaging 20 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds for his career.
However, in the 2013-’14 postseason, Westbrook seemed to elevate his game to new levels, posting a ridiculous 27/8/7 line while continuing to make breathtaking and game-changing plays on both ends. He had a PER of 24.9, second only to King James for players who participated in more than 10 playoff games, and believe it or not, he tallied the most assists throughout the entire playoffs.
Westbrook is not a one-dimensional ball hog who takes too many shots; he is a playmaker who wreaks havoc with his driving, passing, rebounding and defense.
Of course, for Westbrook to be able to silence the critics, he will need Thunder head coach Scott Brooks to adapt and place him in a lineup that can spread the floor and keep the lane clear for him to get into the teeth of the defense.
While no one can stop him one-on-one or maybe even two-on-one, if the Thunder continue to roll out lineups that have two or three non-shooters on the floor, Westbrook will have a hard time maximizing his potential by getting into the paint. However, a lineup featuring Westbrook teamed with two shooters, stretch power forward Serge Ibaka and a center should be a pain to contain.
Durant has long praised his teammate, reiterating that Westbrook is great, even mentioning that he has the talent and ability to one day become an MVP as well. Well Russell, your shot to finally prove that you have what it takes to be “the guy” has finally arrived, and I could not be more excited to watch you deliver.
Is Westbrook a true superstar? Can he keep the Thunder afloat in Durant’s absence? Send Rushad an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.