Russell Westbrook: No apologies necessary

(Los That Sportsblog)

Petulant, Abrasive and Trigger Happy.

I believe the way we view certain people says more about us than it could ever say about them. In voicing our disdain for them, we are voicing displeasure for traits we either do not possess ourselves or fighting situations in which we have been marginalized. We hate them because we aren’t them. We hate them because we see ways that they are better than us.

Maybe one of those people is Russell Westbrook.

Exciting, Fiery and Borderline unstoppable.

In deconstructing a player like Westbrook, I see a guy who on any given night can get where he wants (in order) to do what he wants however he wants (to do it).
That is to say, the young man is pretty close to being unstoppable. He is a terror in the open court and a threat to completely fluster defenders in half court situations as well. His pull up jump shot is a thing of beauty, equal parts explosive burst and feathery shooting touch. He is a tenacious defender (has been since college) and an excellent rebounding guard.

For a guy so gifted who has experienced the success he has in a relatively short amount of time, I think we must ask, “why the backlash?” What is it about Westbrook’s game that disturbs so many viewers, fans, analysts and pundits? In 2010-11 Westbrook Received All-NBA Second Team honors after becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to record 4,000 points, 1,500 assists and 1,000 rebounds through three NBA seasons (Chris Paul, LeBron James, Anfernee Hardaway and Oscar Roberston).
(All Stats and Numbers courtesy of NBA.com)

I would assert the young man is too good for his own good. Such a combination of skill and youth is rare in most professions. Sports are no different. A commonly held notion is no matter the degree of talent, young people need time to mature and let the mental aspect of the job catch up with physical gifts, no matter how formidable.

Together with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals. In route to the Finals, the Thunder laid waste to every perceived bastion of strength and dominance in the Western Conference. The last 3 teams to represent the West in the NBA Finals were obliterated. This is not hyperbolic wording: OKC blasted the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs en route to a showdown with the Miami Heat. That kind of dominant performance does not occur without dominant player performances. Both Durant and Westbrook submitted game upon game what would solidify their place among the best and brightest players in the sport.

Somehow, among the praise there were also murmurings of displeasure and discontent. He shoots too much…. He’s a selfish player….. Durant should get more shots than him…… he’s a point guard, it’s his job to involve everyone……

When was the last time a player this good had to endure questions about his style of play right after leading his team to the NBA Finals? Was the 43 point outburst in Game 5 and indictment of him as a player? Perhaps those calling for a change in his style of play wanted more of the Game 7 triple double performances against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, when Westbrook became the fifth player in NBA history to register a triple-double in a playoff Game 7 (Scottie Pippen, James Worthy, Larry Bird and Jerry West.)

To be clear, I am not a Westbrook apologist nor am I some kind of character witness. Judging strictly by what he does between the lines, I would have to ask for a stay of execution in the court of public opinion. The talent is unquestionable. The results speak for themselves.

Numbers don’t lie.

Instead of trying to find ways to change what Russell Westbrook does, I say we ask for more of the same. More intensity, more drive, more passion.

When discussing basketball strategy, I am often asked what I feel the responsibilities of a point guard entail. In short, make sure the team scores. Identify mismatches and exploit them. Find opportunities for your teammates without giving the ball away. Make sure the best players get the shots they are most comfortable taking and capable of making.

Using such criteria, I don’t see why people see a need to accost Russell. Just because a search for the best shot, a mismatch or the easiest bucket is often times located squarely in his hands, it does not mean his is a bad ball player. It means he has the means to a desired end at his finger tips.

Last season came to an abrupt end for Russell Westbrook. Some called the play bush league. Others called it hard-nosed. I saw a guy make a play he shouldn’t have which resulted in a needless injury. Without Westbrook the Thunder floundered. The only good thing to come out of the whole predicament is that Russell Westbrook’s value was accurately measured.

Without him, the Thunder didn’t sniff a championship. With him they contend for a title.

In the end, that is how we should judge him.

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