It was a large-money commitment for a small-market team with other emerging stars. Thunder General Manager Sam Presti gambled on Russell Westbrook to the tune of $80 million over five years.
This season's results have been validating and maddening, best illustrated through last night's 43-point performance that ended in a bizarrely oblivious foul.
Westbrook has been recklessly, ruthlessly efficient. His win shares mark has gone from .159 to .163 despite a decrease in assists per game (8.2 to 5.5). While he passes less, he shoots better. Russ has added a mid-range game. His once ill-advised shots are increasingly wise choices, solely based on his augmented skill level.
Of course, he often chucks too much while ignoring wide-open teammates. Since he's good on the balance, "Let Westbrook be Westbrook" has become something of an Internet meme. But letting Westbrook be Westbrook can be a concern for a team that must be painstakingly planned. Russ appears to operate outside logic or planning. He's a basketball force, occasionally impervious.
But if it's coming down to Westbrook and Harden for OKC's future, Sam Presti can probably sleep most soundly with having given Russ the big deal. James Harden has been the more efficient player this season, but I doubt you'll ever see anything like Westbrook's Game 4 out of the bearded one.
I believe in Harden's talent, and also that his faltering NBA Finals play will be an instructive failure. This should not "expose" JH, so much as it should elucidate where he can improve. Harden has no right hand and an inconsistent mid-range game. When that comes, a team like Miami won't be able to make him look D-League level.
But Russ Westbrook has a higher ceiling. Frustrating as he is, he has demonstrated the ability to reach it in the Finals.