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Why Russell Westbrook Should be America’s Favorite Player

2015 has proved to be one of the most unforgettable seasons in NBA history, and there are plenty of reasons for that. The Atlanta Hawks have been surprisingly dominant and exhilarating, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers started out 19-20 and have been 32-7 since, and the West has been the dogfight that all of us expected. Another reason this season has been so special is the historically tight MVP race. Stephen Curry and James Harden have had incredible seasons and will likely duke it out for MVP honors with James and Anthony Davis nipping at their heels. Regardless of who wins MVP or what team ends up with the NBA title, for my money, there has been one player who has won my heart in the 2014-2015 NBA season. That player is Russell Westbrook.

Russell Westbrook has never been what you would call an endearing person. Westbrook had it hard right off the bat, getting drafted in 2008, sandwiched between draft picks Kevin Durant (2007) and James Harden. (2009) Westbrook’s two-year career at UCLA was hardly notable, with the exception of one highlight dunk that almost seemed to vault him to the No. 4 pick on draft night. To Oklahoma City’s delight, Westbrook exploded out the gate as one of the most athletic, quick and explosive players in the NBA. His seven-year career has been quite polarizing, though.

Westbrook has a keen sense of fashion that includes tight pants, floral patterns and a color palate that shouldn’t exist on an outfit. You’ve probably seen him in those once-funny, now grossly overplayed Mountain Dew Kickstart commercials, or looking mean in his Jordan and True Religion commercials. Up until this season, where Durant has only played 27 games, Westbrook has been constantly scrutinized for taking shots away from the MVP and refusing to get the ball to Durant in late-game situations. With Westbrook’s play this season, I don’t think anyone’s going to be asking him to pass up a shot ever again.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but Westbrook has been incredible this season. Entering this season with only eight career triple-doubles, he has recorded 11 this season, including nine since the All-Star break, which is tied with Grant Hill for the second most of all time in that span. These aren’t just small triple-doubles either. He had a stretch of four straight triple-doubles and six triple-doubles in eight games.

Here’s his lines for those games (Points-Rebounds-Assists):

20-11-10

39-14-11

40-13-11

49-15-10

30-11-17

29-10-12

Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 8.6 assists on the year, all career-highs for the 26-year-old. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Westbrook is only the fourth player ever to average at least 27 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists in a season:

Russ2

Westbrook is in some good company. As you can see, Oscar Robertson accomplished that feat six times, which might lead one to think Robertson is six times the player Westbrook is. Well, not exactly. ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh wrote a piece putting Robertson’s numbers in perspective and compared them to Westbrook’s numbers had he played in the 1960s. Adjusting for the fast pace and high minutes per game in the 60s, here’s what Haberstroh came up with:

Time-Warped Westbrook
RUSSELL WESTBROOK’S AVERAGES PTS AST REB
At current NBA levels 27.6 8.6 7.2
At ’62 Royals’ est. pace 36.1 11.2 9.4
At Robertson’s playing time 46.9 14.6 12.2

It was pretty cool that the Big O averaged a triple-double in the 1961-1962 season, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s got nothing on Russell. For some more historical context for Westbrook’s season, his 28.58 PER would rate as the second-highest ever for a point guard, behind only Chris Paul in 2009. However way you put it, Westbrook is having a marvelous and unprecedented season.

Of course, the only reason we really care that Westbrook is putting up those numbers is because he’s tons of fun to watch. Westbrook plays like he has a jetpack on his back for 48 minutes and the dude only knows one way to play. He jumps higher, plays harder and runs faster than you, and boy oh boy can that man get hot. His play isn’t simply brute force, either. He has smooth handles, knows how to find his teammates when he wants to and has a nasty right-elbow jumper with the elevation to sink it over anyone.

Yes, Westbrook’s game might be a little iso-heavy sometimes, and when his shot isn’t falling, he doesn’t know how to stop shooting. He also doesn’t show up for every play defensively and gambles far too often on that end. His turbo-speed, reckless style of play can only last for so long until his body can’t take it any longer. Westbrook has missed 51 games the last two seasons after playing every single game of his career since high school. The reality is we won’t get this version of Westbrook forever, which is why you gotta love him while we have him. With Durant playing only 27 games and Serge Ibaka likely out the rest of the season, Westbrook has put Oklahoma City on his back and on the verge of the No. 8 seed in a stacked Western Conference. That may not get the man an MVP trophy, but he has definitely won me over.

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