Patience is a virtue, and Thunder fans have had little choice but to be so this summer. The pain of Kevin Durant’s “Next Chapter” decision made for a slow month in the aftermath, with little else to think about and no basketball to subside the pain.
Then thoughts turned to the future of his superstar teammate and former partner in crime, Russell Westbrook. Would the Thunder’s number zero want to stay and lead the franchise alone, becoming the sole cornerstone of a team reeling from the biggest free agency departure since LeBron James first left Cleveland? Reports swirled.
There was talk of negotiations with other teams in regards to potential trade, but those boiled down to nothing but General Manager Sam Presti taking calls rather than making them. The asking price was ludicrously high even for a player of Westbrook’s talents. Presti and the Thunder wanted to keep their man.
On August 4th, Welcome To Loud City broke the second biggest story of the entire offseason when Westbrook agreed to an extension with the Thunder:
Russell Westbrook is set to sign an extension with OKC. Details are with the league for final approvals. Press conference is tomorrow.— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) August 3, 2016
The celebration was incredible as Westbrook became a state hero. His commitment to the future direction of the franchise and spearheaded its return to the competitive echelons of the Western Conference and NBA as a whole.
Returning to the place the Thunder have called home is no easy task. The Thunder went 55-27 last season, and go into this campaign without key men Durant and Serge Ibaka. Between them they combined for 20 Win Shares last season, and that is a lot to replace.
Westbrook’s balancing act is a key part of this, and likely the driving force behind the Thunder’s success in 2016-17. The majority of the NBA expect him to be a man completely unleashed, with statistical lines unlike anything seen in the modern NBA.
Triple double averages were unrealistically floated. 30-plus points per game, 9-10 rebounds and double figure assists have became almost expected; but they remain statistical lines associated with NBA2K rather than reality. Russell might not agree though.
If Westbrook is averaging around 30 points per game, unless his efficiency improves, it will mean he’s doing too much and not involving his teammates. If his usage percentage echoes Kobe Bryant’s record of 38.7%, it again means he is doing far too much too often.
His rebounding is also likely to decline, considering the rest of the roster’s proficiency at it. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Joffrey Lauvergne, Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo are all terrific rebounders, and it means Westbrook can be smart and expend his energy elsewhere. Like here:
This shouldn’t affect his assist numbers, although the departure of Durant and Ibaka will mean those numbers could take a hit if he can’t find new buddies to hook up with offensively. The departed players made up 6.0 of his 10.4 assists per game last season, and that won’t be easy to fill.
His outstanding chemistry and increased floor time with Steven Adams will help, as Adams steps into more minutes, a bigger team role and certainly on the offensive end. Enes Kanter’s chemistry will Westbrook is well established, and both bigs will be devastating with him in the pick and roll.
In terms of his own scoring, becoming more efficient or at the very least taking strides to take less bad shots would be a promising development. Shots from the perimeter must be wisely taken, particularly for a man who is a career 30 percent shooter from deep.
Last season Westbrook hit 35.4 percent of his threes from the left side of the three point line per Vorped.com, but less than 30.8 percent everywhere else. No matter what sort of shot it is, be it catch and shoot or holding the ball for multiple dribbles Westbrook does not hit league average (34 percent) from outside. Those shots have to be taken less.
If he were to be the team’s most frequent three point shooter, it would likely be the result of an unsuccessful campaign for the entire team. To get the best from himself and his team, countering his weaknesses on both ends will be the step forward he can take. Opposing teams will know what to target, but he can counter that. The skills are there.
The biggest question those around the league are asking now is if Westbrook can get the most out of his teammates and push them to their potential whilst getting the best from himself at the same time.
Everyone knows that the former UCLA product can put up jaw dropping stat lines, but can he reach the final step of superstar status and improve his team at the same time?
Most Valuable Player talk will surround him every step of the way, and he could become the first player to win the MVP without his team winning 50 games since Moses Malone accomplished the feat over three decades ago. There will be doubters and rightfully so, but Westbrook’s talent is that incredible he could overcome so much precedent weighing against him.
That question alongside every other will go unanswered for several months yet, but the ride along the way will be a joy to watch. The 82 game Russell Westbrook Revenge Tour kicks off in Philadelphia tonight, don’t miss it. It has the potential to be historical.
The Russell Westbrook rim destroying tour is coming to an arena near you.