When you play on one of the NBA’s most exciting teams and are the right-hand man to a superstar like Kevin Durant, it is reasonable to assume there will be some critics. Enter the life of Oklahoma City Thunder point guard, Russell Westbrook. The athletic 25-year-old is often the topic of conversation after each Thunder game, especially in the playoffs. Whenever he takes more shots than Durant, Westbrook is to blame. This claim is a fair one in many regards. I consider Durant to be the top player currently in the league thanks to his size and ability to score from wherever. However, it has been proven countless times that these superstars need another all-star and steady bench to bring home a championship. For example, Michael Jordan always had Scottie Pippen, while LeBron never got his first ring until he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. There’s no questioning the elite stature Kevin Durant possesses, but he needs his teammates to play effectively and efficiently with him. One of the primary ones is Westbrook.
Westbrook is a unique player in many regards. While only being 6’3″, he can jump out of the building, provides crucial offensive rebounds, and has an unteachable passion for the game. Russell is one of the major stars right now in the NBA, having averaged over 20 points per game over the last four seasons. At the same time, Russell always seems to be under a microscope with every playoff game. There has been peaks and valleys with how he is looked at. In the Thunder’s game 5 loss against Memphis this year, Russell put up an incredible line of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. Putting up a triple double should protect him from the blame for the loss, right? Not necessarily when you take 31 shots, which was 7 more than leading scorer, Kevin Durant. This is where Westbrook really impresses me. With all the criticism coming from this game and the Thunder being a game away from elimination, Westbrook all of a sudden has one of the most efficient games of his career in game 7 after a dismantling of Memphis in game 6. His game 7 stats showed: 27 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists, and most importantly 10-of-16 shooting. He has no trouble handling this adversity.
Rather than making Westbrook the scapegoat for each loss, we need to realize this is the type of player he is. It is these games that make him so valuable and truly show the potential he has. As a player, I truly believe he is still growing. Yes, he doesn’t need to be shooting the rock over 30 times in a game, but all of the criticism can sometimes be a little much. He’s going to be a consistent all-star selection that will continue to average over 20 points a game. If he is able to control the game like he did in game 7 and play under control, then I think Oklahoma City will be a tough out in the playoffs. After many were very worried about the Thunder’s title hopes with some lackluster performances, it looks like they are back on track for what they set out to do. Whether it was Russell responding to the critics or Durant having to deal with being called “Mr. Unreliable,” the Thunder are still alive.