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Russell Westbrook has been one of the most electrifying players that we have witnessed during his stint in the NBA. Now as dynamic he has been, Westbrook has been criticize for his erratic play which has been warranted at times. This summer, Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s teammate and partner in crime since 2008, made the decision to join forces with the Golden State Warriors rather than re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thus leaving Westbrook with a decision to make himself on where to sign when becoming a free agent in 2017. Westbrook shocked everyone by signing a three year extension worth $85 million. So what does this mean for Westbrook? Let’s trace his career from the beginning to give us a clue on how he will fair as the sole leader of the Thunder.
Past – Coming into the NBA, Westbrook wasn’t well known being a one-year starter at UCLA. He entered the NBA as this energetic and physically gifted player. His offensive game looked un-guardable at times with a reliable pull up shot in which he would stop on a dime after going full throttle at the highest speed a player could go. Also throw in his ability to get to the rim at will and finish with a tenacious dunk or layup which seemed like a fair warning that superstardom was on it’s way. Westbrook would also accumulate assist even though he was accused of ball hogging.
With all of the ability he had and showcased, it was mostly uncontrollable. There were times where he would drive to the basket at full speed and either hoisted up an ill-advised shot or made a horrible pass. This was a common act for the young stud. What was more devastating to his reputation was his persona of being all about Westbrook on the court. Playing with arguably the best offensive weapon with Durant and even James Harden, Westbrook often looked for his shot. Mostly coming down the court with the ball and not giving anyone else the chance of touching while ending with a contested three point attempt. The question that was looming was is he a team killer?
Present- Although the present usually means as we speak, we will use the seasons 2014-2016. This version of Westbrook started the process of coming into his own. Playing with more control, he had a taste of being the sole leader with Durant nursing a foot injury. As his confidence grew, so did his game. It seemed like his vision became more clearer with the protective mask. The triple-doubles weren’t just normal triple doubles, he was scoring 40 plus with 15 assist and 14 rebounds. What was more astonishing was the way he lead a injury plague team. With Durant missing 55 games, and Ibaka missing 18 games during the later part of the 2014-15 season, Westbrook nearly lead his team to the playoffs.
If 2014 season was his coming out party, then last year signified he was hosting the party. Westbrook led his team with basically two rebounds short of averaging a triple-double (23.5 ppg, 10.4 apg and 7.8 rpg). The two-time All-Star MVP was the engine that catapulted his team to the Western Conference Finals. What went unnoticed was his leadership on and off the court. This was a guy that seemed like he finally understood what it was to be a leader, professional and superstar all in one. His turnovers reached an all-time high (4.4 and 4.3 respectively) but he didn’t let that deter him from coming back and making game winning decisions and plays. He finally got it, he didn’t try to adhere to anyone else’s version of what they thought he should be. He used his weaknesses to his strength by letting his seemingly out of control play turn into important assist. Will this be the future of Westbrook?
Future- Westbrook has the chance to put his name with some of the NBA past greats. When names like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant compare Westbrook to themselves as far as having that killer instinct, then it’s no doubting he’s. He has this unique talent where he can give the team any and everything it needs and not lose any energy doing it. With him being the lone star, he will get his shot at being the first to average a triple-double in a season since the great Oscar Robertson. He embodies the work ethic to be named amongst the elite and plays on both ends of the court as if every possession was a Finals clinching possession.
Does he have the mindset to lead a team deep into the playoffs or in the playoffs? What about playing under control not risking getting thrown out because of his fiery passion? These are what great players possess. This is the opportunity to separate him from that bad habit Russell Westbrook that’s stuck in a capsule in the mind of NBA fans. Westbrook is indeed the most athletic player in the game but what needs to standout is his mental aspect towards the game. Not only is a MVP in his near future but a legitimate and talented teammate will be coming as well depending on this upcoming year and the way he leads and responds to losing his old superstar teammate in Durant.