The Remarkable Rise of Russell Westbrook

Posted by Justin Benjamin on Saturday, March 14, 2015 with No comments
For a long time the Oklahoma City Thunder have had one of the best 1-2 punches in the NBA. After trading away James Harden before the 2012-13 season, the Thunder made it clear that they're game plan going forward would be centered around their superstars, Batman, Kevin Durant and Robin, Russell Westbrook. The status-quo featured Kevin Durant leading the way with Westbrook right behind him. The dynamic duo has excelled together, leading their team to the playoffs for five straight years, a feat extremely difficult to maintain in a powerful Western Conference.





During their first round playoff series versus the Houston Rockets in 2013, the number 1 seed Thunder would lose Westbrook, who tore his right meniscus, causing him to miss the remainder of that postseason. The Thunder went on to defeat the Rockets, 4-2, before losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in just 5 games, despite having home-court advantage. Westbrook's absence was felt.


The next season (2013-2014) the Thunder would lose Westbrook yet again to a right knee surgery in late December. All eyes were on Durant; He would be expected to fill in the gaps and keep the Thunder among the league elites. Durant would do just that, except do even more. Kevin Durant had an outrageous year; He averaged 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.5 APG on 50% shooting, giving the Thunder a 59-23 record, and earning for the first time in his career, an NBA MVP. After getting Westbrook back, the Thunder entered the playoffs with high expectations. The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies in the first round, the same team they lost to without Westbrook, in a dramatic seven game series. In the second round, they would face the Los Angeles Clippers, beating them in six games. Their determined postseason run would fall short to the San Antonio Spurs, the eventual NBA champion, who defeated them in six games.


After yet another unsuccessful playoff ride, the Thunder would start this season without Kevin Durant. Durant broke the Jonas bone in his right foot, leaving him with no other choice but surgery. Westbrook also would miss some time with a small fracture in his right hand which occurred just two games into the season. Both players returned in December eager to help their team make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Durant has been unable to stay healthy missing games sporadically, leaving Westbrook as the only reliable player on the Thunder. In a reverse role from last year, Russell Westbrook, this time, would be the star playing while Durant would watch from the bench. Westbrook would be called to fill in the gigantic gaps for the reigning MVP, the Thunder’s franchise superstar, and to many around the league, the better player, a task too arduous and implausible for Russell Westbrook to handle. Unlike his critics and naysayers, Westbrook has seen this dilemma far differently, not succumbing to the challenge, but instead, accepting it and flat-out thriving.


In the few different stretches Durant has missed throughout the season, Westbrook has exploded, posting stats even Durant hasn’t achieved. Westbrook’s first outing took place from December 19th to the 28th, a period Durant sat out; In the six game span Westbrook averaged 30 PPG, 8 APG and 5 RPG, an impressive and notable stretch. Durant, also missed the first couple of games in February against the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans. That wouldn’t be a problem however, because Westbrook played; The spirited guard averaged a striking 35 PPG, 10 APG, and 8.5 RPG on 55% from the field and 89% from the free throw line, not to mention that he had a triple-double against the Magic and 45 point outburst against the Pelicans, both games which the Thunder won. Durant has been sitting out with injury since the 21st of March, leaving Westbrook with a window to prove himself even more, a window where Westbrook has saved his grand performances for the stretch he’s currently in. In the current 10 game stretch Westbrook has played in (February 21st - March 13th) without the reigning MVP, Westbrook has averaged 32.8 PPG, 11.2 APG, and 10.6 RPG, including 4 straight triple-doubles and 6 in total. Among the monster games, Westbrook's best have come against the Philadelphia 76ers, when he had 49 points, 10 assists and 15 rebounds and against the Portland Trail Blazers when he posted 40 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds. Westbrook’s recent play has left the league speechless and in the same statistical conversation with the league’s greatest of all-time, the ultimate MVP, Michael Jordan. The scariest part of this amazing tale is that this is just the beginning.


In addition to exceeding expectations Westbrook has put himself in the same group as the best players in the NBA this season and has created a convincing MVP case. His primary competitors are Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, all of which are playing at a high level this season. If this MVP race was solely based off statistics Westbrook would take the trophy now. Westbrook has more triple doubles (8) than his four competitors have had combined this season. He also averages more points, assists and rebounds than all of them except Anthony Davis, who averages just a little over 3 rebounds more than him. The only flaw in Westbrook's tremendous portfolio is his team’s sub par record, 39-26, which seems great but only earns 9th in a stacked Western Conference. Supporters of the sensational guard could all argue that Westbrook has the least help, without Durant. While that may be the case, Westbrook's MVP campaign won’t appeal as much until the Thunder make some noise in the playoff race.


Oklahoma City Thunder fans have had plenty of reasons to complain about this season but the injury woes of Kevin Durant have been a blessing in disguise. For a long time, the Thunder and the rest of the league have given Kevin Durant a sizable edge over Russell Westbrook. While Kevin Durant is one of the best players in the World and has rightfully earned every accolade he has accumulated throughout his career the drivers seat in the Thunder’s car is no longer his to hog.  

After what we’ve seen Russell Westbrook do lately, he has attained the respect and permission to lead the charge and assume leading positions when Durant returns. We’ve seen what these guys have been able to do together, falling short every deep playoff run they make for the past five years. They’ve both showcased what they could do without each other; Durant, in 2014, averaged 32 PPG, 5.5 APG, and 7.4 RPG while Westbrook, this year, has averaged 27.3 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 7.1 RPG. It’s also been apparent that they can’t get it done on their own either, not on the Thunder at least. It’s time for a change in Oklahoma City, a different formula, an alteration in the previous plans; It’s time for Russell Westbrook to lead the Thunder with Durant right behind him, complimenting and filling in all the gaps that Westbrook misses. The absence of Kevin Durant has unleashed the greatness of Russell Westbrook. Massive triple-doubles, gauging game play, and an attitude of ferocity have had the fans of basketball on the edge of their seats. This superior stretch of games has portrayed what Westbrook's capable of and the potential he possess. Westbrook has just started his amazing run and with Durant expected to miss a couple more weeks, the NBA is impressively witnessing, regardless of the time Durant misses, the ascension and remarkable rise of Russell Westbrook.