After Kevin Durant got his Fievel on this summer, everybody knew that Russell Westbrook was going to have a monster season as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s unquestioned top gun. I’m not quite sure any of us were prepared for just how monstrous the All-NBA point guard would be, though, in a ridiculous run that continued apace on Saturday night.
Westbrook didn’t have a soft touch from midrange or beyond the arc on Saturday, but he didn’t need one to completely control Oklahoma City’s meeting with the Detroit Pistons. He finished with 17 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds, a steal and a block in 37 minutes of work in a dominating 106-88 win that improved the Thunder to 10-8 on the season.
It was the 44th triple-double of Westbrook’s career, tying him with LeBron James for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time list. Simply sharing the company of the King would be impressive enough; that Westbrook needed nearly five fewer seasons’ worth of games to match the four-time MVP in this particular category, though, is downright stunning:
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2016
… and LeBron certainly recognizes real when he sees it:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 27, 2016
Westbrook, for his part, played the accomplishment cool after the game, according to ESPN’s Royce Young:
Asked what it means to be in such company, Westbrook said, “I mean, nothing. I’m happy we won — that’s the most important part for me. But I definitely don’t take anything for granted. Like I said, every night I step on the floor I try to compete at a high level and [am] thankful I can play the game I love every night.” […]
“It’s a combination of me getting better as a player and also being patient,” Westbrook said. “Before, it was a little different, because I was not as effective at finishing around the basket, but now I’m able to get down to the basket and make plays for my teammates.”
It was Westbrook’s seventh triple-double of the young campaign; the entire rest of the NBA has combined for eight. Seven-in-18-games puts Russ on pace for an absurd 32 triple-doubles by season’s end. That would be more than the likes of Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen accumulated in their entire careers.
No other player in 55 years has rolled up this many triple-doubles this early in a season. No other player in 28 years has put up 15-assist triple-doubles on consecutive nights. Entering Sunday’s games, Westbrook is, literally, one rebound shy of averaging a triple-double for the season … and doing it despite his team playing at a comparatively glacial pace to the one at which Oscar Robertson ran all those years ago:
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) November 26, 2016
You can append caveats to this if you want. Yes, Westbrook’s compiling all these numbers because he’s controlling the Thunder offense to an unparalleled degree — his usage rate (the share of his team’s possessions that he finishes with a shot attempt, a foul drawn or a turnover) of 40.8 percent would be far and away the highest ever recorded over the course of a full season, dwarfing the most ball-dominant marks of Jordan, Kobe and Allen Iverson. Yes, Westbrook also leads the league in turnovers, which dilutes somewhat the value of those dimes he’s dropping. Yes, he’s shooting just 43.5 percent from the field, and bombing nearly 5.5 3-pointers per game despite barely making one-third of them. Yes, his defensive effort and effectiveness can leave something to be desired.
Whatever warts you see in Westbrook, though, his overarching impact — the sheer force of will he exerts on the game, the fingerprints he puts all over it, the way he dictates its shape and course — remains undeniable. Oklahoma City has outscored opponents by 113 points in Russ’ 637 minutes of floor time this season, and been outscored by 88 points in the 242 minutes he’s rested. When he sits, the Thunder offense goes from top-10 caliber to 20,000 leagues under the NBA’s absolute worst.
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He is the breath in the Thunder’s lungs and the burst of blood in their chest, and head coach Billy Donovan has never seen anything like it, according to Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman:
“He can do so many things,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “And I think that’s why he plays so fearlessly, in my opinion. He’s not just a one-way limited player that only can do a couple things. He can do so many things and impact the game in so many different ways, coupled with the fact that he’s been in the league for a long time. He’s experienced. He’s very bright.” […]
“To put up those numbers, the people that are in that category, he’s a Hall of Fame player,” Donovan said. “That’s really what he is. He’s a Hall of Fame player, and it’s really remarkable what he’s doing. It’s one of those things as a coach, you feel very, very blessed and fortunate to be able to work with someone like that every single day, just because he takes it so serious and he cares so much about the team and winning.”
It seems insane to expect Westbrook to keep this up for the next five months. While an Oklahoma City team with few other shot creators will continue to need him to generate just about everything every time he steps onto the floor, the combination of near-total defensive attention and superhuman workload feels like too daunting a double-team for Russ to defeat over a full 82-game slate.
Then again, every single Thunder opponent knew heading into the season that Donovan’s nightly game plan would be Russ Slaughters Everyone, and that hasn’t prevented it from being pretty darn effective as we near the quarter-pole.You can see something coming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be prepared for its impact once it arrives — like an unblocked linebacker running free to the quarterback on a blitz, a car running a red light and careening into an intersection … or Number 0 in blue and white hurtling headlong, night after night after night, into the teeth of the defenses and the embrace of history.
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