Someone Over the Rainbow

Nothing comes easy for Russell Westbrook on the basketball court…except for the running and the leaping. But those skills make Westbrook more a track star than a legit NBA player. Yet Russell is considered one of the best young points in the league, and his dynamic, energetic play is one of the reasons why the Thunder are slowly invading the national consciousness. He boasts a rare combination of top-notch athleticism and maximum effort, two traits which are almost antithetical in today’s NBA. The league’s athletic freaks typically coast on their natural gifts for far too long, temporarily halting their development and limiting their opportunities. Those that aren’t blessed with that athleticism typically opt towards honing a particular skill or simply outwork everyone else on the floor. But despite his ridiculous ups and explosive speed, Westbrook has managed to stay grounded.

That’s what makes Westbrook different from say, Steve Francis. Their basketball instincts are certainly comparable, as they understand the general concepts of the position and basketball in general, but without the nuance of the league’s more cerebral point guards. But whereas Francis was a leaper with delusions of a jumpshot (sound familiar, Thunder fans?), Westbrook is slightly more enlightened. His shot selection is just as bad as Francis’, but Russell has given in to the divine ways of the hustle. He moves at a different speed not simply because he’s faster or quicker, but because he has the willingness to move as quickly as he can all the time. It’s the same reason why Westbrook is rarely in control, but it’s a tactic that’s admirable in its sincerity. It would be hard to accuse him of floating or looking disinterested, because Westbrook really only knows one speed. Everything is pedal to the metal, and though that doesn’t bode well for his turnover rate or his team’s offensive efficiency, it makes Russ just as fun to admire as the NBA’s more technically proficient stars.

The defense is there and the effort is there, but in order for Westbrook to make it to the next level, he’ll need to turn his effort and his hustle inward. Russell’s game will take him as far as he wills it to, and though premier point guard instincts can’t exactly be taught, they can be cultivated by time in the gym, studying video, and with the playbook. That’s what it’s going to take for Westbrook to earn a spot among the elite at his position, and his on-court work ethic gives us all reason for optimism. It’s also the reason why Francis had a ceiling, but Westbrook does not. The key is to avoid spinning sideways, and though he has yet to take any substantive jumps this year, he’s a sophomore. I love instant returns as much as anyone else, but the key to Westbrook understanding and actualizing will be the patience of those within the Thunder organization itself. They put a big vote of confidence in Russ this past summer by not drafting one of a million competent point guards, and that mentality is what’s needed for Westbrook to develop into the player everyone hopes he can be.

Seth Carstens