Russell Westbrook: Something Beyond A Phenomenon

Russell Westbrook has always been on some different ish. Reckless abandon, untapped energy, out of control and selfish are some of the unfriendly attributes that were placed upon Russ just a few years ago. When he was still clocking time as the designated sidekick to Kevin Durant, most prognosticators, me included, were wondering whether he could just tone it down a bit and concede his position, happy to Robin to KD’s Batman. 

But some people are built to be front runners and, even if they wanted to, they just can’t take a backseat to anyone. In Durant, Westbrook had a partner who is a former MVP and generally considered one of the most prolific scoring forwards in the history of the game. But observers would often note that KD might have lacked the type of drive that is often attributed to the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and others.

To be fair, there are many all-time greats who weren’t foaming at the thought of vanquishing defenders, they just went out and got the job done. Some, like Magic Johnson, did it with a smile.  Others, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Tim Duncan, showed very little outward emotion.

Back when Russ dropped his first career triple-double back in March of 2009, becoming the first rookie since Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul to do so, it was apparent that he might be something special and unique after a college career that was somewhat obscured by being on a UCLA Bruins squad that was loaded with talent like Darren Collison, Kevin Love and Aaron Afflalo.

But even with those guys sapping his shot attempts and shine, Russell’s explosiveness and tenacity were on full display in the NCAA tournament and that was enough for him to be a high draft pick. A similar, talent-rich situation awaited him in Oklahoma City as he transitioned into the NBA.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Westbrook got better and better every year. His assists and rebounding went up, as did his field goal percentage and three point shooting. Meanwhile, Durant just plugged along with his usual 26 to 30 point per game scoring average. Like, how could you get tired of watching someone drop such numbers as Durant on a night-to-night basis? Perhaps it gets played out when you’re the “Robin” who is constantly conceding to a “Batman” with nothing left in his utility belt? When your partner’s answer to everything is to drop another 30-point game, an ideal solution would be to concentrate on those things your running mate isn’t good at.  

In the Westbrook/Durant equation, Russell became a better rebounder, a better passer and a better defender. 

While the duo was together, Russell got the lion’s share of the blame whenever things went awry. His basketball I.Q., his shot selection and tunnel vision had some thinking that perhaps he would be better suited as a shooting guard. However, we now see what the problem was. Russell is a “Batman” personality and he just couldn’t be shoe-horned into a backseat role.

After Oklahoma City’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, Westbrook recorded his 11th triple double of the season with his sixth straight triple dip. The record of nine straight was dropped by Wilt Chamberlain during the 1967-68 season, while both Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan had streaks of seven during the 1960-61 and 1988-89 seasons, respectively.

Additionally, Russell has recorded five triple dips through three quarters with Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden recording the only other one to occur thus far this season. In an age filled to the brim with individuals who believe that if a phenomenon happened more than a decade ago then it’s old news, Russell Westbrook’s numbers are in sync with the, at times, antiquated views of basketball purists and scintillating enough to spark chaos on social media servers with every slobber-knocking, rim rocking foray.

He’s not just a point guard but “something” like a phenomenon. 

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