Within his ferocious chase for history, Russell Westbrook has taken some criticism. Some things never change.
Westbrook is on the verge of becoming the first NBA players in the last 55 years to average a triple-double for a season. But as is always the case, there is still room to critique his game.
One of the aspects of Russ’ play that has gotten some heat this season has been his stat chasing, in particular the defensive rebounds he goes after. It’s well-documented that Russ has at times sacrificed correct defensive positioning to chase down defensive boards, seemingly to boost his stats and attain more triple-doubles. It’s also been questioned if his teammates are playing a part in this, focusing solely on boxing out so that Russ can grab more boards.
Whether or not this is true is actually not the issue. The issue, if there is one, is only if this is hurting the Thunder. In reality, it may actually be helping the Thunder. Here’s what head coach Billy Donovan has to say about the impact of Westbrook when he grabs a defensive rebound:
Donovan: "Because of his (Russ') speed and his ability to defensive rebound, the rest of the team is able to run quicker than most teams."
— Alex Roig (@AlexRoig_DT) March 18, 2017
Donovan brings up some interesting points here that are often overlooked when critics want to solely focus on Westbrook padding his stats. A defensive rebound for Westbrook allows his teammates to run the floor more quickly, something that is definitely beneficial for the Thunder bigs, who are most valuable feasting on the offensive glass anyway.
A Westbrook defensive rebound also allows Russ to ignite a fast break more quickly on his own. For a Thunder team that struggles with spacing and outside shooting in the halfcourt, fast break opportunities spearheaded by Westbrook are at an even greater premium.
The main point is that a criticism of stat chasing needs to be backed up with the other side. If it can be confirmed Russ is trying to pad stats, is it even ultimately a bad thing?
Of course, ideally Russ would never sacrifice something like correct defensive positioning to increase his odds at a rebound. It’s another way in which Russ is basically playing on the edge, just like the way he will aggressively go after steals.
The Thunder have learned to live around a Westbrook that plays this way. The supporting cast has molded around their star and the biggest thing that can’t be argued is every Thunder player is all in on Westbrook running the show the way that he is.
No one knew for sure what this Thunder team would look like in its first season without Kevin Durant. It’s definitely exceeded some expectations and all of the credit goes to Russ. Just like all of the blame will go to Russ is the team has a poor showing in the postseason.