Unhinged: The Russell Westbrook Story

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By tapping into chaos, Westbrook has risen to the top of his profession. He has more games of 30+ points and 10+ assists than any other player this season. He also has more games with seven or more turnovers than anyone in the league, but that’s just part of the package for a player this talented and this bullish. It’s a credit to Scott Brooks and his staff that they haven’t tried to turn Westbrook into something he’s not. Other point guards might shift away from such a forceful approach, but Westbrook’s way forward doesn’t lie in concession.

Unlike his point guard colleagues, Westbrook will find no elevation in control. He’ll continue to improve only as he better understands his own strengths (many of which are derivative of or rooted in his unruly style), improves some technical aspects of his game, and better unleashes himself on opponents. Westbrook forged his stardom with his own fire, and though he occasionally burns himself and his team, there’s simply no substitute for the ferocity of a creative hearth.

via Westbrook’s Stylistic Blessing and Curse – NYTimes.com.

Try and calculate how many times your average NBA internet pundit hears the phrase “when he learns” during the average course of a season. It is the fan’s greatest hope. Rajon Rondo is 25 and we’re still discussing “when he adds a mid-range jumper.” With Derrick Rose it’s his mid-range or his defense. With John Wall it’s health and the jumper. The list goes on and on, nowhere more pointedly than in the never-ending stream of conversations about the elite class of point guards we watch every night.

Which is probably why Westbrook’s my favorite of all them. Not the best. My favorite.

Because as Mahoney touches the nerve on, I don’t think Westbrook considers his game. He just plays. It’s instinctive. With Rose, there’s a high level of calculation going on, even if the math itself isn’t all that complex. He’s precise, borderline OCD about how he springs off that screen. He’s not perfect and he knows it, wants to improve. And that’s really admirable. It’s a great quality to have in your young beast. The best, really.

But there’s something about Westbrook’s attitude. It’s borderline “F*c% it, I’m going deep.” Openings in the lane are not opportunities to be seized on like a vulnerable commodity in a high-equity market, they’re not the flat bars in Tetris, to be used eagerly to clean out that row. No, it’s stumbling upon free drinks at a bar, an open cashier at the market, the opening in traffic for a chance to open up the engine. You don’t consider the consequences. You push the little red button. That’s Westbrook’s whole approach. Push the little red button.

Westbrook takes what’s his. It’s honestly the biggest difference between he and KD. Durant is always judging himself, the shot, the defense, the game, trying to find that equilibrium that allows him to do amazing things. He’s a kid searching through radio stations for that song he heard once. If he finds the right frequency, everything falls into place. Westbrook on the other hand is just going to run in and jump on the bed until it breaks and then run downstairs for his pudding pop. It’s not the best thing. But it’s the thing which hits you in the seratonin spots like chocolate.

Part of the draw is of course, the violence.

Westbrook sees no need to go for the body shot. He just swings for the head. Swing away.

That’s pretty much Westbrook, only without the goofiness of “Signs” (although I’ll also readily admit “Signs” is my favorite Shyamalan flick). He’s not conniving, in such that you don’t think the hawk that snatches the snake out of the grass is conniving. It saw a snake, it was hungry, it killed the hell out of it and went on its way. That’s Westbrook. You’re in need of a few players on any good team who simply exist in that “no-mind” state. Odom is that for the Lakers, Rondo would likely be that for the Celtics had he not been brainwashed into hyper-effectiveness.

It’s honestly James’ biggest problems, to continually bring him back into things. He’s an instinctive player who’s not sadistic. Westbrook, on the other hand, gets his greatest sense of satisfaction on the floor in demolishing you. He’s got a mean streak, and it shows. It’s not just the dunks. That mid-range middle-key pull-up of his is basically him saying “Take that. Leave me open.” The looping left-baseline righty layup might as well be followed by “Oh, I’m sorry, were you gonna guard that baseline, eventually?” Westbrook is the one who irritates opponents and their fans, not Durant. Durant you respect, you fear, but you don’t really get irritated by him. Westbrook however is always trying to cut you in the fight and you’re constantly frustrated with the small cuts he elicits.

Like all reckless players, you wonder if eventually it’ll take its toll on Westbrook, if he’ll stop being fearless and have to hold himself back. Until then, we’re just waiting for Westbrook’s next opportunity to get off the leash.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.