For years, we said it was an awkward fit, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
When the two stars were together on Oklahoma City, it often felt like they took turns shooting the basketball, each allowing the other to take over a game for a spell, then stepping up for his turn. When Durant left for Golden State, it was a surprise, though in a way it was exciting: We were finally going to see Westbrook thrive all by himself.
Thrive he did, packing box scores and getting up to 31 points per game scoring in 2015-16, a jaw-dropping year that saw him go at everybody in the league and win MVP.
But the Thunder weren’t contending. Not really. So they went out and got Paul George. It’s taken some time, but he’s finally stepping up as the team’s primary scorer. In doing so, he’s freeing up Westbrook to be the best version of himself.
Westbrook isn’t a point guard like we’re used to seeing
Westbrook’s aggression, and his willingness to pull up, has always made it hard to see him for the point guard that he is. Even as he notched triple double after triple double, the narrative remained the same: He was always going to take the shot. He was going to do it himself.
I was guilty of this. I thought of Westbrook as a me-first player. When thinking about the fact that he notched an awful lot of assists for a me-first player, I’d chalk it up, stupidly, to stat padding. (Westbrook can be a little piggish with rebounds, but it’s a lot harder to pad stats with assists.)
During his MVP year, Westbrook was a bit me-first. It was thrilling, but also felt a tiny bit hollow. Everything went through him.
Watching Westbrook’s play over the last few weeks, however, in which he’s now notched ten consecutive triple doubles, an NBA record, it’s become clear to me: Westbrook is at his best when he’s playing with a pure scorer next to him.
Paul George has once again given Westbrook that pure scorer he had in Durant. And it’s opening up everything for Westbrook.
Paul George is making it all possible
In looking at Westbrook’s streak, it’s important to also look at what George has done over the last ten games. Gone is the passive role player who was trying to fit in alongside Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony in the earlier iteration of this team.
Now Anthony is gone, Westbrook is facilitating, and George has become a monster, averaging 33 points per game over his last ten contests, including games where he scored 47, 45, and 43 points. The Thunder are also 9-1 in their last ten games, and suddenly look like another threat in the already deep Western Conference.
With George being more aggressive, it’s opening up everything that the Thunder want to do. Especially with regards to Westbrook.
Finding the balance of Westbrook
Westbrook has always been talented enough and physically gifted enough to get a shot. It may not always be the best look, but he …read more