Russell Westbrook Provides a Lesson in Scapegoating

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterMay 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder takes a rest during a break in play against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The  Lakers won 114-106 in double overtime.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As recently as a few weeks ago, all that plagued the Thunder was somehow connected to Russell Westbrook. If Kevin Durant wasn't getting enough shot attempts, it was undeniably Westbrook's fault. If Scott Brooks drew up an uninspired late-game set, Westbrook was to blame. If the power went out on the far side of OKC, Westbrook was undoubtedly involved. Such is often the case with scoring guards of all kinds, but particularly so for this star in particular; the price of playing with a saint like Kevin Durant is apparently eternal fan and media damnation, as Westbrook remains the league's best player that can somehow manage to do no right.

No player deserves such ridiculous treatment, and particularly not one of Westbrook's tremendous talents. One of the best players in the league has seen his exploits ignored for the sake of taking the slightest transgressions — or perceived transgressions — completely out of context. It's not fair, and even though critiquing Westbrook has become one of the NBA world's favorite pastimes, it never was. 

We — as observers of basketball in the most general sense — have to approach the Thunder more intelligently. Not everything can be pinned to Westbrook, who managed to key the Thunder's first-round win over the defending champs without much fanfare. And not all praise can be funneled to Durant, who was pushed and held into two games of pretty inefficient basketball through some fault of his own. We need not be slaves to confirmation bias, and yet whether for the sake of consensus or simplicity, that often seems to be the case. 

In truth, Westbrook, Durant and James Harden oscillate in success and failure, with no sure scapegoat and no consistent champion. All are skilled enough to excel in most games and most situations, but there's no sense in prescribing a team's failures as we have so many times in the past, particularly with a team so dynamic and, if only in pure basketball terms, dramatic.

We're lucky enough that the Thunder have yet to lose a playoff game, and thus we have let to arbitrarily assign blame based on preconceived notions of who Westbrook is and should be. But that loss is coming, as is the scapegoating, and my only hope is that this time around we can give more credence to specific performance rather than assumed role.

Westbrook isn't a traditional point guard, he isn't the problem and he isn't holding Durant back. He's merely one of the best in the business, and though Westbrook struggles through fits of inefficiency, his flaws look shockingly similar to those of the league's other great players, and his troubles —when freed from gross exaggeration — prove incredibly temporary.