Russell Westbrook Is The Key To The Thunder and The West This Season

Max Goodwin@maxgoodwContributor IIIOctober 30, 2010

Rus hesitates for a moment just before he explodes to the hoop.
Rus hesitates for a moment just before he explodes to the hoop.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder have become the darlings of the NBA, seemingly out of thin air. They are known as the most exciting team in the league to watch. The face of the franchise, Kevin Durant, is one of the most likable players in the league and is coming off a summer where he won the World Championship for the US and became known as the anti-LeBron James.

All of the excitement around the Thunder seems to be focused on Kevin Durant. But for everything he does for Oklahoma City, KD is not the reason this team is so damn fun to watch. Yes, there are the highlight dunks that he occasionally slams over defenders with his incredible wing span, but the reason Durant is so good is because he gets to the free throw line. There is no better player in the NBA at getting to the line and knocking down the free ones than Durant.

You may consider free throws exciting(as David Stern seems to believe) but I do not. What really makes the Thunder the most exciting show on the hardwood is their point guard, Russell Westbrook. He is the one that drives the fast breaks. Westbrook attacks the defense before they can set up in position. He is probably the best dunker of any point guard, and he is only 21 years old.

Check out a youtube highlight of his dunks and you will probably not care to argue with that. He has the type of speed that seems to sneak up on the defenders. Before they know it, he is flying over them.

That is all great and exciting, but what matters this season for the Thunder is how Westbrook will handle his development as a leader on the team. He will be 22 in September and this is his third year in the NBA. This is the year where, as the starting point guard, he will be asked to take a leadership role over this team.

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks discussed how Westbrook has developed as a leader saying "I think each year it's improved. It probably still needs to take another step. And we're looking for that this year. It's hard to lead as a first or second year player. You just have to gain that respect. But he's gained that respect from his teammates and coaches."

There is confidence in Westbrook's ability in this statement, but there is also a challenge to be met. There is still another step left to take this season for Russell. The Thunder had a surprising season last year and nearly fought their way to a game 7 against the Lakers, but this season they are expected to get past the first round.

Oklahoma City is being mentioned as a favorite to knock of the Lakers in the West. It is certainly a possibility, but that relies on how this leadership process is developed with Westbrook. He is just one step away from elevating his game into the elite level of point guards. As crazy as it sounds, he is probably much closer than many people realize.

Everybody knows about Kevin Durant, but it is Russell Westbrook who will shape this season for the Thunder. He has the ability to one day be the best defensive point guard in the NBA. It was the reason he made the team USA roster this past summer. He was chosen for that spot over Rajon Rondo, who is currently known as the league's best defender.

The Thunder already posses one of the league's toughest defenses, and if Russell Westbrook lives up to his potential this season, that is what would put them in the category of championship contenders. That defense is what leads to the fast-break dunks that you see on the highlight reels. Once Durant or Westbrook have the steal, they are immediately on the break, and they have speed to burn.

He is the key to the West this season and the ceiling of his potential appears to be very, very high. Westbrook is the piece that could put the Thunder over the edge and so far in this young season, he has taken advantage of his opportunities.