Russell Westbrook Reminding the NBA of His Superstar Credentials

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 07:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates a three-point shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 7, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook is uncompromising, frustrating and just as capable of throwing games away as he is of taking them by the throat.

But he's also a flat-out superstar.

It's easy to focus on the negatives with Westbrook, especially when he's on the wrong end of a marquee matchup. Chris Paul badly outplayed him in Game 1 of the Oklahoma City Thunder's second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, exposing many of Westbrook's well-documented flaws.

OKC's point guard played too fast, didn't move the ball enough and lacked the total control Paul exerted over the game. The Thunder lost, and Westbrook's 29 points in 30 minutes faded into the background, replaced by the usual questions about his game.

In Game 2, Westbrook showed he didn't need to do things Paul's way to be a major factor. Forget controlling the game like CP3, Westbrook beat it into submission.

That's his style. It works, and we'd better get used to it. It's not going to change.

Westbrook doesn't tone his game down when criticized. He ramps it up. That's who he is, and that's precisely why he's so very, very dangerous.

There are always going to be nights when Westbrook gets outplayed by the best at his position. We saw that in Game 1, and we're going to see it again before this series is over. Fair or not, those low points when Westbrook looks out of sorts and overmatched lend support to critics who argue he's a notch below the league's top point guards.

Here's the thing, though: Westbrook, at his best, is better than everyone at his position.

Forget reaching the same tier as guys like Paul, Stephen Curry or whoever else you want to put on that list. When Westbrook is at his absolute, attack-mode maximum, he's on another planet.

We've seen enough to know we'll just have to take the good with the bad while accepting, on balance, that Westbrook is one of the most impactful, hard-to-contain players in the league.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows that and said as much to reporters after Game 2:

I know I’m going to get a competitive Russ, and that’s what I look for every game. He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s not going to make every shot, but he’s going to compete, and after the game you know that you’ve played against Russell. And I respect that.

That's really it, isn't it? Westbrook is going to lose you some battles, but you want him on your side when you're at war. The opponent knows it's been in a fight when Westbrook is through.

Maybe it's not fair that Westbrook needs people to vouch for him. If we'd just look at the bigger picture of what he brings, it'd become clear he's a net positive for OKC.

Sensing the need to back his buddy, though, Kevin Durant devoted a piece of his MVP acceptance speech to Westbrook. In a wholly powerful address, KD's comments on his running mate were among the most moving.

Durant's endorsement means a lot because one of the most persistent knocks Westbrook faces is that his game takes away from KD's—that it somehow stunts his growth by eating up shots and slowing down the ball.

Objectively, there's some truth to that.

Any possession Westbrook wastes with a rushed shot or too much dribbling is one KD could have theoretically used himself. But if Durant is behind Westbrook, isn't that all that matters?

We saw the motivating effects of Durant's words in Game 2. More importantly, we saw how effectively both superstars could play at the same time.

If anything, the constant sniping at Westbrook is a testament to his potential.

We ask him to use better judgment and play with a more measured pace because he seems like a player completely unconstrained by physical rules.

We wonder why he doesn't do certain things because his raw athleticism and talent make it seem like he's capable of anything.

Truthfully, it's appropriate that sentiment on Westbrook swings back and forth so much. The pendulum of love and hate is emblematic of his game, as he's capable of utterly dominating an entire contest one day, then getting outplayed the next.

Even within individual games, we see the best and worst of Westbrook alternately affecting his team's fate.

But as frustrating as his performances can be, we always arrive at the same consensus: He's a great player who elevates OKC's ceiling to that of a legitimate title contender. The knocks will always be there because Westbrook doesn't change, and that's frustrating for people who see even more potential in him.

We probably shouldn't need to revisit this issue so often. And maybe we don't need reminders of Westbrook's superstar status to snap us back to reality after he turns in a rough effort. However, Westbrook always serves reminders anyway.

That's the thing about Westbrook: He doesn't care what you want and he definitely doesn't care who you want him to be.

He knows he's a superstar, and that's really all that matters.