We’ve seen this Russell Westbrook before. We’ve seen triple-double Westbrook. We’ve seen bad shot Westbrook. We’ve seen everyone taking shots at Westbrook. We’ve seen Westbrook playing 1A to a scoring champ. We have seen MVP Westbrook so we’ve seen extraordinary Westbrook, and Oscar Robertson-clone Westbrook. It’s because we have seen this version of Westbrook joy and Westbrook intensity and Westbrook dogged fearlessness, that makes all of his historical feats feel ordinary. It’s normal Westbrook behavior. He’s being himself.
Russell Westbrook isn’t the second-best point guard in NBA history. He isn’t in the top-5 point guard convo either. Westbrook is in a category he created. Most Original NBA Player. A rebounding guard. A playmaker. A relentless driver to the rim. Leading with obsessiveness. Average shotmaker but willful and inconsistent in the clutch. Energetic and charismatic. A winner and…not.
Russell Westbrook defies anyone to question his credentials but he will never silence the critics. It’s been like that since Westbrook decided to leave UCLA for the NBA. His uniqueness always rubbed the wrong way. Can’t shoot. Bad decision-maker. Too many turnovers. Too aggressive. Russ, as the lead guard running the show, doing Russ things like driving, finishing and rebounding has the Wizards cautiously confident this might work in the postseason. As gimmicky as it seemed a few weeks ago, Westbrook’s determination and fury paired with Beal’s scoring talent is a twist to the lower half of the east bracket, particularly the play-in game where he’ll be required to be his enigmatic, aggressive, passionate self. And if Beal’s hamstring isn’t okay, Westbrook will have to be even more of himself.
This is the first time in five seasons that Russ hasn’t taken 20 shots a game. He’s never been a great three-point shot maker and this year is shooting just 31%. He is having a career year rebounding the ball, at nearly 12 a game, more rebounds than Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Julius Randle. He has a career-high in turnovers.
Westbrook’s PER is the third-worst of his career. Not since his second year in the league has his PER not reached 20.0. His defense isn’t what it used to be either. To the surprise of many, his usage rate is his third-lowest.
The problem with Westbrook’s haters is they can’t/won’t accept who he is. They can’t appreciate what he is. Westbrook’s flaws lead the conversation, but he will never be an efficient shot maker. His 37% on jump shots is what his career has been about. He has made almost as many layups as jumpers. That is the Russ Westbrook game.
Westbrook was never going to Dwyane Wade-it in Washington. And he couldn’t. The Wizards just don’t have enough offensive talent to be able to let Russ and Beal chill while the rest of team does their thing. Washington is 29th in 3-point attempts, 24th in 3-point makes, but thanks to Westbrook and Beal, they are 1st in free throws and 2nd in free throw attempts. The Wizards rebounding, assists, and turnover numbers are directly related to Westbrook being on the team. The Wizards are 3rd in scoring and dead last in defense. They earned their 10th seed and the play-in game.
Next week, the Wizards will play either the Pacers or the Hornets. They’ve swept the Pacers and lost both games to Charlotte. (They end the season against Charlotte). Westbrook has averaged a triple-double but only 17 points vs. the Hornets. Games against Indiana are the best of Westbrook: 20 assists, 27 points, 18 rebounds.
Regardless of the play-in, it’s going to be a short playoff run for Washington. They aren’t built to last more than a round and because of that Westbrook is going to be blamed for not carrying a team to a title but his first year in Washington, he’s done more with less. Every team isn’t built to be a contender. Russ has done Russ. That’s what you get when he is on your team.
But for some, that’s not enough. Russ has to be Chris Paul, or Steph Curry, or even Trae Young. He’s underappreciated because he isn’t a traditional point guard. He’s Russ. He does it his way. Regardless of if you like it or not, like his passion or not, like his emotionality or not, like his rebounding or not, like his hot and cold scoring or not, Russ Westbrook is one of a kind. He brought a crazy kind of joy to the league in 2008. He’s not going to change.
Nor should he.