Russell Westbrook has long been a conundrum for the NBA. Coaches and players don't know how to slow him down. Fans and the media don't know how to categorize his style of play. Over his first eight seasons in the NBA, he has made steady improvement until finally reaching superstar status.
Westbrook is one of the five best players in the NBA today, and is the only one who shares the floor with another top five player (Kevin Durant). On nights like last night, when Westbrook shot poorly (10/31) and missed more shots than Durant took (21 to 18), millions of hot takes about these two stars' ability to play together surface.
However, the two have come together to give the sports world one of the greatest moments in post game history. Their combined ether of Mark Cuban and Charlie Villanueva will forever live on in infamy. Both players have developed a seemingly negative attitude towards the media as a whole, with Westbrook in particular as he was often reluctant to give the smallest of insights into his play and actions on the court, causing Russ to look immature at times in similar vein as Allen Iverson's practice rant 14 years ago.
To wit, there's the "execution" interview:
In that same interview he uttered the infamous "I just don't like you" to the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel as well.
There was the time he cut off a journalist mid-question so he could finish giving his full answer to a previous question:
*Note Dion Waiters' reaction after Westbrook cuts off and stares down the reporter*
In the 2012 Playoffs, we got the "No more questions for you bro" post game comments:
And of course, who could forget the "Y'all trippin" interview:
Yet, despite his checkered past in post game situations, there was a huge improvement in his comments following the Thunder's 100-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3.
As noted by Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman:
Late in the game Parker was bringing the ball down and everyone was pointing. Somebody needed to pick him up but nobody does, miscommunication there. Talk me through that.
Russell Westbrook: "It’s frustrating. But it’s my man. It’s my fault. I gotta be able to get back and match up. Especially when he’s wide open like that. Especially with the game on the line."
You had the big long drought. Offense before that and after that was pretty good. What happened in that seven-minute dry spell?
Russell Westbrook: "Just missed shots man. Execution. It starts with me. I gotta do a better job of putting guys in position to score the basketball. Especially tonight. Especially to beat this team. You need to find ways to move the ball around and that starts with me. I’ve gotta do a better job of that leading into the next game."
Three critical turnovers late in the game. They seemed unforced. What happened?
Russell Westbrook: "Just turnovers. Can’t turn the ball over, especially with the game on the line. Gotta do a better job. Lock in. Take responsibility when the ball’s in my hands and make plays for my teammates. I didn’t do that tonight."
Was it just a matter of the Spurs playing good defense or just one of those nights for you?
Russell Westbrook: "Too many shots. I think honestly I gotta do a better job, like I said before, of getting guys good shots. Steven (Adams) got one shot. I gotta get other guys involved to beat this team. Even though I had some shots I make, I gotta read and find ways to get guys good shots. I’ll take the blame."
This glimpse of accountability from Russ is unusually rare. This is the same player who quickly denied any involvement in OKC's wardrobe selection earlier in the postseason to Slater.
This stunning turn from Westbrook underscores the biggest indicator of growth for the 27-year-old point guard. His decision making can still be spotty at times--see his two turnovers in the final four minutes of play yesterday-- and he will never be a "pure" point guard that most believe Durant needs to play with.
But this moment of clarity and honesty from him shows that isn't oblivious to his mistakes and that against the elite teams like the Spurs, he's going to need to do better if the Thunder are to advance.
Russell has been a source of criticism ever since he entered the league in 2008. Watching him grow into a superstar has been awe inspiring, however it's his growth into a veteran that is the biggest key for Oklahoma City in both the short and long term future of this franchise.