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Can Russ keep it together long enough to win a championship?
Russell Westbrook may be one of the more polarizing players in the NBA. He is a lightning rod topic of discussion and is a very interesting and vital piece to the NBA playoff picture. While the Thunder are led by MVP candidate Kevin Durant, who is without a doubt the best player on the team, there is no denying Westbrook’s extraordinary athleticism and talent.
If Russ were on any other team, he would probably have a Derrick Rose-like green light to carry a team and attack the defense on a relentless basis. However, with the presence of another star and other pieces like James Harden that need to be involved, it is important that Westbrook find a balance between getting “his” and helping his teammates get “theirs."
I do not think that Westbrook is necessarily a “selfish” player that is unwilling to pass, or even a guy who does not like or respect his good buddy, Kevin Durant, as some accuse him of, but the problem is that he does believe that he is a great basketball player that should bow down to no one. This is not an abnormal attitude, as most of the league’s elite stars have that attitude. Most players think they are the best in the league, whether it’s true or not. The only problem is that usually, these types of stars (and he is an elite star) do not have to share the spotlight with other stars.
Westbrook is fully aware that no one defender can stop him off of the dribble and that his pull-up jumper is pretty reliable as well. Most players with this type of talent would never be told to “pull back” on their full assault of every team in the league, however, as a point guard on a team loaded with talent, namely Durant, he does have a unique responsibility to make sure he is a distributor first.
In order for the Thunder to make a run at the championship this year, as many expect them to do, their star point guard must find an even balance between attacking the defense and distributing the ball on offense. If he can do this effectively without pouting or overdoing it on either end, this season may end in glory in mid-June.
The problem is, can Russell avoid letting the bright lights and adrenaline from getting to his head, which could lead to him disregarding everyone else and trying to get “his” while a 30 ppg scorer is kept without touches for five to 10-minute stretches? Can he avoid getting too passive, in response to the critics and not fulfilling his responsibilities as the team’s second scoring option that can be a headache for the defense and a lightning rod to the rest of the team and their fans? This remains to be seen.
OKC has the talent, they have the firepower, can they execute in the half court effectively and unselfishly as they start to play the league’s better teams in grueling seven-game series. This remains to be seen.