Note: Scrolling down and playing the music could provide for a more enjoyable experience.
Russell Westbrook is a point guard flanked by Kevin Durant, A.K.A. the best scorer in the league A.K.A. unbridled superhero MVP candidate A.K.A. are-you-kidding-why-isn’t-the-ball-in-his-hands-yet, and he somehow still registers a higher usage rate than him. Last year, Westbrook attempted one more field goal per game than Durant despite scoring 4.9 less points and playing 3.6 less minutes. All of this is to say that Westbrook is wrought with foibles. Yet he’s also rich with ardent bluster; endearing proof that the modern-day point guard can, and should, swim past the depths of temperate floor-generalmanship.
Friday against the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook nailed a trey that put Oklahoma up by one point and left just 0.1 seconds on the clock. The game-winner secured a win for his rolling squad and left us speaking in tongues. Let’s not allow the electricity of the moment to confuse us, though. This was not the play of the game, or even his. Westbrook’s defining imprint on the game came seconds before the shot when he flung into the air and lunged for an offensive rebound that would have otherwise belonged to the 6’11 Jermaine O’Neal. A 6’3″ guard with the steely-eyed confidence to rebound amongst the NBA’s giants, Westbrook stands in the face of strict positional conventions and crushes them like a scythe upon a stone.
This, friends, is the apex of the positional revolution. For Westbrook, an eclectic and befuddling racehorse, it’s been a long time coming. Fans, including myself, never understood him. Today, it’s easier to forgive Westbrook’s affinity for mid range jumpers when we know he’s following every shot with reckless abandonment. Yes, he cheats off defenders too much but when it pays off… man, it pays off. Westbrook is a dribbling cataclysm but one that undoubtedly creates a useful brand of chaos for his team.
Once the floodgates were opened, there was no going back. They flushed out a bifurcated tonic, providing us with equal parts hair-raising tension and creative bewilderment. Even at the height of his criticism, Westbrook refused to reel in and sing anodyne hymns of point guards past. Never an imitator, Westbrook was an imperfect visionary but one that was here to stay. Say what you will about Scott Brooks (I’ll join in) but credit him here: At the nadir of Westbrook’s play, he allowed the young star to employ his own risk-benefit analysis system, to swim triumphantly in his victories and toil in his mistakes. Brooks was the first guy to have the gall to let Westbrook be Westbrook.
Today, we can look at the numbers and say “duh, Westbrook is great because A, B and C” but it takes a certain degree of bravery on multiple fronts to allow such a distinctive sample size to develop. Just as the advanced statistics movement has opened up brave new worlds of understanding this sport, players like Westbrook have pushed the NBA to its brink, seemingly cracking the floorboards open and extending its 94′ x 50′ parameters. As such, Friday’s events should be less about “clutch” and more about respect for the process.
Numbers aside, Westbrook is gaudy on so many levels. Untethered and unaware of his mortality, he’s a visceral delight and a disruptive maniac in the open floor. At his best, he’s not flexing his muscles, rather he’s compelling us to flex our own in excitement. He’s the climax of your favourite song; the ultimate guitar riff. I could have set this song to play from the best part (it is an entire twelve minutes, after all) but the first 9:20 serve as a perfect build-up. We need those minutes to appreciate the last three.
Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com’s Stats tool.