Russell Westbrook is the first and last of his kind, and I’m good with that.
He is the best point guard in the league while being its most overrated. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. The Oklahoma City Thunder guard is a physical specimen unlike any I have ever seen, and he blends in those attributes with a mental toughness that probably rivals Kobe Bryant’s.
Westbrook is the most athletic point guard the sport has ever seen, and I’m talking about a league that’s housed the likes of Steve Francis and Baron Davis. Russell will jump over and through you if he deems it necessary.
What’s more, his speed and quickness are simply breathtaking. There isn’t a person alive who can stop, contain, slow down or catch Westbrook. He’s the NBA’s version of the Road Runner, except he dunks on you when you finally think you’ve trapped him.
Call me selfish, but I’d like for things to remain as is.
Westbrook’s natural gifts are impressive in their own right, and they only stand out more because he comports himself like the best player alive.
Westbrook will pull up for a trey early in the shot clock, make one bad decision after another and occasionally freeze out his teammates. He just wants it so bad that at times he takes his entire team out of sync.
Russell Westbrook is 1st player in NBA playoff history to have 30 Pts/10 Reb/10 Ast and… MISS 20+ FG IN ONE GAME.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) April 30, 2014
And yet, he’s the guy who gives the Thunder everything.
He gives OKC scoring, playmaking, passion, intimidation and heart. The Thunder play with an edge whenever Westbrook is on the floor, and it makes the team better.
Still, I can’t merely gloss over his warts because, much like Westbrook, they show up in spectacular fashion.
Russ plays at a speed that’s vastly different to everyone else’s on the floor, which in turn makes him often seem out of control. To be fair, sometimes he is.
Westbrook will run up the court before his teammates are set and throw himself into a wall of defenders inside the paint and live with the results, no matter how porous they might be. One could argue he’s just a bad decision waiting to happen.
“It’s not just that he’s selfish or that his shot selection is borderline psychotic or that his fight-or-flight instinct keeps screaming ‘four-point play!’,” wrote Brian Phillips for Grantland in May. “It’s that he can do anything, so he tries to do everything.”
It’s worth noting that his superstar teammate (KD) has collected four scoring titles during his career and is a career 47.9 percent shooter.
Forgetting about your comrades during the regular season is somewhat of a forgivable offense, but such issues become magnified during the postseason in late-game situations. But Russell being Russell, it matters not.
My source had told me Westbrook actually was Batman to Durant's Robin -- that the point guard built like (and who often played like) a strong safety was the one with the killer instinct, the assassin's clutch guts. Westbrook, my source had insisted, was mentally tougher than Durant and more feared by opponents late in games.
He has very little regard for time and score, which can be infuriating but also prevents him from shrinking in big moments.
Westbrook takes huge risks and lives with the consequences. He’ll repeatedly call his own number down the stretch of games and ignore open teammates, which, you know, isn’t what point guards are supposed to do.
What’s more, he won’t make any apologies about it, either.
“Obviously you want your teammates to be great and make shots,” Westbrook said in late April, per NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner. “But when the game is close and on the line, you’ve got to make decisions.”
The expectation from the position is steadiness, leadership, getting teammates involved and only calling your own number when open or if the situation demands it.
The perfect Westbrook sequence occurred in Game 5 of that series, with the Thunder trailing by seven points with 49 seconds left.
After blowing two layups, Westbrook registered six points, a steal, an assist and a rebound to close out the contest. Trailing by two, he stole the ball from Paul and drew a foul on a three-point shot. Russ nailed all of his free throws and won the game for the Thunder.
One might consider that a great display of intestinal fortitude given how he bounced back, but that’s just Russ being Russ.
I’m not sure there’s another player in the league who can match both his ceiling and floor. He’s capable of outshining Durant or demonstrating the worst point guard play in a championship game, according to Magic Johnson back in 2012.
And yet, I hope Westbrook never changes.
Sure, he might look like an oncoming train wreck every now and then, but he also lights up the tracks. Nothing is ever dull or even average with Westbrook. All of his plays are executed at 120 miles per hour, and that makes him susceptible to sensational highlights and spectacular blunders.
Westbrook is a nerve-wracking experience all by himself, and I certainly enjoy it.
As someone who once enjoyed watching wrestling, I see parallels between Westbrook and wrestling superstars.
Russell has his own signature move (six-shooter holsters), a swagger that borders on arrogance and the ability to recover from whatever pitfalls he suffers during play (this dude had three knee surgeries and it’s impossible to tell based on the way he flies around the court).
Why would anyone want any of that to evolve? A more conventional Westbrook would be a less entertaining one.
The fact that he always looks like he’s battling for control of a team that is effectively his is a joy to watch. Russ being Russ, he’s always looking to prove that he belongs and that “I got this.”
Westbrook possesses the traits of every (yes, every) great or borderline-great point guard who came before him, and it makes him an easy target for criticism. There are times when I feel like there’s an expectation for him to play better simply because Westbrook was built with seemingly every skill needed.
There’s no reason for anyone to want any of that to go away. Remember, Westbrook came out of UCLA as a 2-guard and was asked to become a point guard. All he did was go with the flow and become an All-NBA guard while playing out of position. To top it all off, he is often the No. 1 target whenever Oklahoma City loses.
With that in mind, why would I or anyone want him to allow others to dictate his fate? If my words can’t convince you, perhaps Durant’s will.
“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I'm the first to have your back through it all,” said Durant in his brilliant MVP reception speech. “Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.”
Get yours, Russ, because really, doing so gives me one of the greatest joys possible while watching basketball.
I can only hope he takes this advice: Borrow a chapter from Kobe and never conform. Instead, make others adjust to you.