Too Much Russ, Not Enough Us

Screen Grab via Double Daniels
Veteran point guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder makes animated facial expression.

Billy Trice

Sports Editor

Russell Westbrook is the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.

Westbrook is a two-time scoring champion, eight-time NBA All-Star, seven-time All NBA first team player along with one NBA MVP award.

All of the credentials and accolades listed above that Westbrook has acquired over the years are astonishing. 

He is a freak of nature who was blessed with supernatural athletic ability combined with a relentless motor. 

It would be reasonable to assume given Westbrook’s talent that his team would be given a plethora of deep postseason opportunities. 

Frankly, that has been far from the truth.  

Westbrook has played in 11 NBA seasons and has appeared in the postseason after each one. This run has benefited the point guard being able to play alongside one of the best players to ever touch a basketball, Kevin Durant.  

The only thing surprising and somewhat unusual about Westbrook going to the playoffs every year of his career is that in his first seven years playing with Durant, he was only able to reach the Finals once.  

The number of Finals appearance is affected by the level of competition in the Western Conference, which has been vastly superior to its Eastern counterpart over the past decade. However, Westbrook has played over half of his career with three premier NBA talents.  It’s hard to fathom a team with Durant, Westbrook,  James Harden, and Serge Ibaka only made one Finals appearance.

Allen Iverson, a ball-dominant guard, only had one All-Star caliber player and had the same number of NBA championship appearances.

If Westbrook has been blessed by the basketball gods with elite talent by his side at all times, then why has it been a struggle for him to make deep playoff runs?

Not to mention, he’s the point guard of his team so he handles the ball the majority of the time and his possession rate is one of the highest in the league.

The answer to why Westbrook is less effective in the playoffs is very simple.

He is a great and transcendent athletic talent, but he is an above-average basketball player, not a great one.

Westbrook plays so well throughout the regular season. Due to the rigorous NBA schedule of an 82 game season, most players aren’t going all-out on every possession in the regular season.

None of that matters to the Oklahoma City guard. He goes 100 mph with his hair on fire in every game no matter what, which is admirable. His numbers are inflated as a result of the lackluster play of his peers, which cannot be held against him.

What I can hold against Russ is that his play style is not a blueprint that translates to deep success in the playoffs.  

When a team gets the chance to scheme against Westbrook while exerting 100 percent effort for a full 48 minutes night and night out, it throws a wrench in his game. 

He can’t rely solely on his athletic ability to bail him out throughout the entire game, so he would need to revert to his fundamentals and basketball skill to stay effective.

Sadly, Westbrook’s basketball skills aren’t as polished enough to help in playoff play.  

There is a way that Russ could change his playoff narrative, it would involve him playing more of a traditional point guard role where he changes the pace of the game and gets his teammates into a rhythm. 

If Russ ever finds a way to swallow his pride and evolve his game; he could lose this early exit playoff bug that he can’t seem to shake.  

But until then he will be considered one of the best regular season players in the NBA and not one of the greatest players of all time.    

Email Billy at: 

btrice@live.esu.edu

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