Russell Westbrook has always been one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. That didn’t change this season despite the fact that he flew under the radar much more than a season ago.
After winning the MVP while averaging a triple-double last season, Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder had a much different look this year with the acquisitions of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in the offseason.
The result was the need for Westbrook to do everything out the window as it was now time for him to integrate his two other stars. The results have been mixed, so much so that Westbrook has returned to receiving some of the seemingly unfair harsh criticism he got in the beginning of his career.
Here is Nate Duncan of The Dunc’d On Basketball Podcast critiquing Westbrook this season, and even saying that he wouldn’t vote for Russ on any of the All-NBA teams:
“His inefficiency this year and the fact that outside of Irving he may have the worst defense on a game-to-game basis. And the fact that how it now seems like everyone who joins his team seems to play worse, even though they are getting the same shots they used to. I don’t know if he disempowers them or they just don’t play well. But it’s a trend that you have to at least acknowledge now.”
Duncan explains here how players who join Westbrook — who is just 16 rebounds away from averaging another triple-double this season — instantly perform worse than they were before coming to OKC. This was definitely the case with Anthony this season, although the case can be made that Anthony sacrificed the most in terms of his role. George had a fine season, remaining an elite defender while getting comfortable with Westbrook on the other end as time went on, but he wasn’t his old Pacers self either.
Other cases of players joining Westbrook then underperforming include Kevin Martin and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo is the most notable here as he has now blossomed into a star since joining Indiana last summer.
This is expected with the simple fact that Westbrook was as high a usage player as you’ll ever see last season and there was only one ball. Most importantly in OKC, it was about winning and the Thunder can be relieved that they have clinched a playoff berth after last night.
Whether or not George and Anthony are no longer their old selves will be irrelevant if the Thunder can make a nice run in the postseason. They came to OKC to sacrifice individual accolades for team success.