6 Reasons Russell Westbrook Will Lead the Thunder to an NBA Title
That's not a typo in the headline.
Russell Westbrook is as vital to the Oklahoma City Thunder's success as Kevin Durant. I'm not trying to say Westbrook is the best player on the Thunder, but his efforts on the court can sometimes be misjudged or even overshadowed.
Oklahoma City has stumbled a bit in the last month of the season after having a solid hold on the top spot in the Western Conference. However, the playoffs will be a whole new challenge for OKC, and they will look to Westbrook and Durant to carry them to a title.
Let's take a look at six reasons why Westbrook will be the key to victory.
6. He Embraces His Criticism
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It started in the postseason last year. "Why on Earth is Westbrook taking more shots than Durant? He needs to pass more!"
Analysts were in on it too. Skip Bayless is one of Westbrook's harshest critics and constantly scrutinizes his play.
Maybe all of this used to get to Westbrook's head. Maybe he used to let it affect how he played. This season, however, he has taken it in stride and is showing his critics that he and Durant can both be high scorers and coexist to form a winning basketball team.
The tandem made the All-Star team, and together they are both going to finish this season averaging over 20 points per game and with home-court advantage in the postseason. If Westbrook hears his critics, he surely hasn't been showing it this year.
When the pressure is on in the playoffs, however, and the magnifying glass is on the Thunder, will he continue to step up and perform at a high level? My guess is absolutely.
5. When Durant Struggles, He's There to Pick Up the Slack
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Kevin Durant is phenomenal and has proven his superstardom night in and night out. However, some nights he may struggle to find his shot, and he needs someone to lean on to help the team pull out a win.
That's where Westbrook comes in. On the rare nights when the shots simply aren't going down for KD, Westbrook finds a way to keep scoring.
One example was a recent game against Milwaukee. Durant made just five of 14 shots and only scored 19 points (which could have been less if he didn't get eight free-throw attempts).
In a game where the Thunder should have taken care of Milwaukee handily, OKC ended up doing just that. Thanks to Westbrook's efficient performance of 26 points on .524 shooting, this game didn't end up as close as it could have been.
Sure, that game was just a small sample, and I know that Westbrook wasn't alone in taking care of the Bucks on an off-night for Durant. But what I'm getting at is that Westbrook stepped up to be the Thunder's primary option when KD was unable to find a rhythm during the game.
That kind of play isn't just Westbrook wanting to be the star of the team. It comes from a player who wants to win.
4. He's Not Your Average Competitor
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Nobody likes losing. Most professional athletes hate losing. Russell Westbrook absolutely despises it.
You can question if he is being unsportsmanlike after a loss by not sticking around for handshakes and post-game interviews, but you can't question his desire to win.
I'm all for being a good sport and taking losses gracefully, but at the same time I still respect players who want it bad enough to the point where almost nothing else matters.
Westbrook wanted to win a championship last year, and when he didn't, it hurt him. He didn't want to talk to anybody about it. He just knew that he really wanted to win and he lost.
That kind of fire and competitive drive is what fuels someone who will perform well in the playoffs, when everything is on the line.
3. He Is a Versatile Player
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Westbrook has a good arsenal of weapons to choose from when he wants to score.
Though his three-point percentage is abysmal this season (just 32 percent), he will still take them and defenders will contest him. That threat opens up his ability to drive into the lane where he uses his speed and explosiveness to get high-percentage looks at the rim or at least draw a foul.
His athleticism adds to his versatility and helps him penetrate the defense off of the dribble.
Westbrook also possesses a pretty nice mid-range jumper, but he has started to take less of them as the season progressed.
His decent shooting ability paired with his quickness and jumping ability make him a very dangerous scorer, and when he turns it on, it's very hard to defend him or slow him down.
2. He Has a Chip on His Shoulder
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Like I mentioned earlier, Russell Westbrook is by no means a fan of losing.
He and the Thunder all know how close they came to playing in the finals last year. That won't sit well with Westbrook when he enters the playoffs this year.
He's going to come in with the mindset that it can't and won't happen again. Westbrook wants to take his team all the way this year.
Westbrook also has the weight of criticism on his shoulders. He had several games last postseason when he took more shots than Durant, and that's likely to happen again this postseason.
What many of his critics need to understand is that this is how Westbrook has always played.
He's a scorer and he shoots a lot. Does it mean he wants to be the star and in the spotlight? Not necessarily. But his intentions mean well and he wants to help the team, even if it means taking away touches from the best player.
He's never going to be a Rajon Rondo or a Steve Nash. Westbrook is his own type of player and he doesn't plan on changing that for anybody.
1. He's a Game-Changer
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You could love him or hate him but that won't change the fact that he changes games.
Russell Westbrook is a very aggressive player who attacks on both sides of the ball. He gambles a lot on defense and goes for a lot of steals. This can hurt a team, especially when he comes up empty and gets beat on defense.
However, it can also give his team an extra boost and shift the momentum. If he does come up with a steal or a block and it leads to a fast break (something the Thunder are really good at), it can energize the team and the fans.
His aggressiveness also translates on offense where he can become careless with the ball (3.7 turnovers per game this season), but his relentless attacking at the basket produces results more often than not.
What I'm getting at here is that Westbrook's aggressiveness has more benefits than negative consequences.
With how much energy and effort Westbrook brings on offense and defense, he will be a force to be reckoned with this postseason as the Thunder look to capture their first title since moving to Oklahoma City.