2012-13 OKC Thunder Player Previews: Russell Westbrook

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Russell Westbrook had a breakout season last year where he survived the critics and then thrived in adversity. What does he have in store for 2012-13?

Russell Westbrook is often seen by many outsiders, including media detractors, as the biggest foil to Kevin Durant's greatness. If you look more closely however, you will see that he and KD are playing better than ever together and Westbrook too should take another leap forward in 2012-13.

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Player RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Position Point Guard
Year in NBA 5
Nicknames "Honey Badger", "Cat," "Russ," "Rusheed Wallace"
2011-12 Stats 23.6 PPG, 4.6 RPB, 5.5 APG, 0.3 BL, 1.7 ST, 3.6 TO
Past Accolades 2x All-Star, 2x NBA All-2nd Team, All Rookie 1st Team, 2012 Olympian
2011-12 Season 2011-12 Season End Review
Injury History Has never missed a game due to injury
Contract Status Currently signed through 2017 in a max-level deal

Zeb's Take:

I've said a lot about Westbrook, and J.A. Sherman effectively captures my thoughts on him below. But I will say that I think the national perception of him is still that of a ballhog, and it would take a lot to get rid of that reputation. But if the public isn't going to change their perception of Westbrook and he continues to win and make All-Star games, then why should he go out of his way to change his skillset?

The bottom line is, Westbrook is the ultimate teammate, competitor, asset, and all-around awesome guy. As a teammate, sure, he yells at some of his compadres sometimes. But you know what he's yelled about? He's asked them to step up, and I can't blame him for that. He's never asked them to pass him the ball or serve his own purposes. Sure, he loses his cool sometimes, but I can't identify a single moment where I think Westbrook is acting lazy or has given up. Yes, he's not very willing to play off the ball and he can be absent minded, but when his number is called, no one ever doubts his will to win. As an asset? In four years, the man hasn't missed a single game. A single game. Cal Ripken who? And he's pretty much an awesome guy. He wears the fishing lure shirts and the Urkel glasses. He's willing to be off the wall, but manages to keep from drawing the ire of morally smug fans.

Above all, Westbrook is willing to be himself in all areas of his game and in the public areas of his life. Even if the guy started posting horrible numbers, I'd still love him, because he never, ever gives up. That being said, I don't think a lot of fans will ever be really satisfied with Westbrook or his game, so I'm putting his grade pretty high.

Grade:

Grade_aplus_medium

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Sherman's Take:

Perhaps the greatest thing about Westbrook's season last year is that all of his critics thought that they had him dead-to-rights. Through the first two months of the season, Westbrook struggled on offense, became turnover prone, and his assist totals fell way down as he had to adjust Kevin Durant taking more playmaking opportunities. The situation was ripe for a catastrophe if, as his critics said, Westbrook was a time bomb waiting to go off.

Well, Westbrook went off, but not in the way most anticipated. Instead of imploding, undermining his team, or working against his fellow All-Star, Westbrook went to work on refining his game and taking advantage of how defenses chose to play him. When the playoffs hit, Westbrook turned into a single-man wrecking crew. He blistered his way through four rounds of the playoffs, often carrying his team when the rest struggled. In the process, Westbrook validated himself in front of the eyes of everyone, culminating in his Jordan-esque 43 point performance in Game 4 of the Finals.

In a word, Westbrook is solving the game. He is maximizing his skillset while minimizing his weaknesses, and the result is that he very well might be the most difficult cover not named Durant or LeBron. He has a ways to go, to be sure. Westbrook still needs to play at a slower pace, employ better floor spacing, and cut down on the careless turnovers. The upside though is dynamite. Westbrook continues to improve his medium-range game to the point where he is now unguardable in the half-court set, and now he is adding a hefty post-grame that further differentiates his athletic advantages. Couple these gains with the fact that Westbrook might be the hungriest player on the court at any given time who delights in demolishing his opponents, and you've got a special recipe for banner-raising.

Jordan Brand, indeed.

Grade:

Grade_bplus_medium

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A Player has exceedingly high expectations attainable only if they play to their fullest ability.
B Player has reasonably high expectations that are attainable.
C
Player has moderate expectations which should be met with little trouble.
D
Player has moderate expectations but will struggle to meet them.
F
Player should not be on the Thunder roster.
X
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