Solely based on the talent and effort he brings to the court, Russell Westbrook has been one of the best players in the NBA throughout his 10-year career.
Just last season, Westbrook won the league’s highly controversial MVP, outperforming Houston’s James Harden, averaging a triple-double for the season with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game on 42.5 percent shooting from the field.
Westbrook followed that up by averaging another triple-double this season, pouring in 25.4 points, 10.3 assists, and 10.1 rebounds per game, however, he missed the most shots out of any player (930).
The Thunder started the 2018 season with high hopes, bringing in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, forming a collective “Big 3” in OKC. Unfortunately, the Thunder only improved their win total by three games this season, losing in the first round to the Utah Jazz for the second straight season.
A huge reason why the Thunder fell short in the playoffs was the play of Russell Westbrook, who got outplayed by the Jazz’s duo of Ricky Rubio and rookie Donovan Mitchell.
This now leads us to the real question we have to ask ourselves: has Russell Westbrook, despite his accomplishments, damaged the Thunder?
Westbrook held a 41.7 percent usage in his MVP season, and 34.1 percent this season, but one way to look at it is how he has stunted the growth of his teammates. The evidence starts with the players OKC gave up for George and Anthony, such as Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis.
For Kanter, his field-goal percentage and rebounds per-36 was at its highest this season in New York. In addition, Oladipo enjoyed his very first All-Star appearance for Indiana, behind a career-high in three-point shooting, and teammate Sabonis upped his efficiency from 5.9 points per game on 40 percent shooting as a rookie to 11.6 points per on 51.4 percent.
Now, determining a player’s value on their teammate’s success isn’t the ultimate factor. And it shouldn’t be. Individual performance should be the most prominent measurable. And even then, Westbrook’s best hasn’t measured up in the postseason. Throughout his NBA career, Westbrook has been terrible in the 4th quarter, shooting 28 percent from the field and 13 percent from three. During this year’s playoffs, Westbrook averaged 1.7 points in the 4th in four of the Thunder’s losses.
With that, this year’s playoffs was the most critical to Westbrook’s legacy. He needed to have a big postseason to mute critics, and even reopen OKC’s championship window. But instead, their window may be closed. Paul George’s free agency now looms, plus Melo is amidst a steep decline. The Thunder will likely never see a top seed again as the struggles of receiving contributions from all of its stars is inconceivable.
If the Thunder want to become a title contender, Westbrook is going to have to tone it down and trust his teammates and their development. Greats like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant learned to take a step back and learn from others. Westbrook is capable of doing the same. He has always proven that he’s one of the all-time greats. But now, he needs to go out and win championships, rather than focusing on averaging a triple-double every year.