Full disclosure: I am an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. I will not shy, nor hide from that fact. I had the privilege of witnessing Russell Westbrook play with a scorched-earth ferocity for a decade. I got to watch him blow by dudes in the open court with breakneck speed and bulldoze his way to the rim like a freight train for 10 years. I was allowed to behold the hardest worker, highest motor, and baddest dude in the league give all he had to a small market team for 1/10 of a century.
I love Russell Westbrook.
I must start with that sentiment, just to clear the air.
It hurt me to watch his season play out last year in Houston. It took him a while to find his stride before he started to completely dominate from January to March, in which he averaged 31.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 6.8 APG, and 1.9 SPG while shooting 52% from the field.
When he fought to come back from injury and recovered from coronavirus, he clearly wasn’t the same player. He averaged a meager 17.9 ppg in the playoffs, and as the Rockets squandered a 1-0 lead against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers, many were quick to point to Westbrook as the scapegoat.
Fast forward to the offseason, it"s reported that Westbrook wants out. It’s reported he could go to Charlotte. Word around the league is no one wants to trade for Russell Westbrook. Granted, his contract is enormous ($41.3M, $44.2M, $47.1M over the next 3 years), but he was still an ALL-NBA PLAYER last year.
Washington Wizards Make Magical Trade
Then, it happened. The Rockets sent Westbrook to Washington and got back John Wall, who hasn’t played a game of basketball in 2 years, and a protected 2023 1st round pick.
Rockets fans rejoiced! "He’s someone else’s problem now," "Good luck with that contract!" and the fan-favorite, "Westbrick," because, of course, John Wall is the "answer to all the Rockets problems.")
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook steps into the best situation he"s had since Kevin Durant was his teammate.
Yet people don’t seem to believe in this team, this roster, or this guy Russell Westbrook. People seem to think they will struggle to make the playoffs.
Well, hold on to your seats, because I’m about to tell you why the Wizards are going to overachieve this season and are going to end up as the 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Bradley Beal, off-ball beast.
Westbrook has yet another all-star level running mate in Bradley Beal. Beal had to step up in a major way this past season for the Wizards to remain competitive, and he did so to the tune of 30.5 PPG and 6.1 APG, both career highs. He was able to accomplish this by an abnormally high usage rate of 33.8%, the 6th highest in the league.
Aside from the "Hero Ball" mentality required of Beal last season, his usage has never been higher than 27%. To put that into perspective, Buddy Hield, who plays off-ball next to DeArron Fox, had a usage rate of 27% last season. Westbrook is best with the ball in his hands, driving to the basket, creating out of the pick and roll, with scorers and shooters around him. Bradley Beal can score and shoot with the best of them, as seen in his career 38% 3-point percentage, so he might just be the best guard in the league to pair with Westbrook.
Reach for the Sky… They’ve got Shooters!
From top to bottom, this roster can shoot the lights out of a building from beyond the arc.
- Bradley Beal: 35.3%
- Thomas Bryant: 40.7%
- Raul Neto: 38.6%
- Ish Smith: 36.7%
- Jerome Robinson: 34.9%
- Troy Brown Jr.: 34.1%
- Isaac Bonga: 35.2%
On top of all of that though, you give Russell Westbrook perhaps the best shooter he has ever played with in Davis “The Latvian Laser" Bertans (what a nickname), who last season shot a blistering 42.4% from deep on almost nine attempts per game.
Ask any Thunder fan and they will tell you what was needed most to push those Thunder teams over the hump once KD left: Shooting.
With Westbrook’s ability to get to the rim almost at will, teams try to clog the paint and make it hard for him to get going. Surround Russ with shooters, and it becomes pick-your-poison. Prevent his many sharpshooters from getting hot, or watch as the Brodie catapults the ball through the hoop and in your face.
With numerous reports of the Wizards front office wanting to shake things up, it was clear to see they weren’t happy with the team culture. Ever since Tommy Shepherd became the team"s GM, they began to clean house and search for players with high character and, more importantly, hard workers.
Bad news for Wizards fans; John Wall didn’t fit either category.
You know who seamlessly fits both? Russell freaking Westbrook.
Russ had no choice but to work hard to get where he is. He wasn’t a highly-touted recruit, people didn’t believe he was worth the #4 pick in the 2008 draft, many thought Eric Maynor should start over him (if you’re saying who, exactly), he had to carry a team built for him and KD by himself after KD’s untimely departure, and through every up and down, twist and turn in Russ’s career, he continues to leave it all on the court.
There isn’t a harder worker when it comes to preparing his game for the season, and there isn’t a motor that runs higher than Russell Westbrook’s.
In his first practice with the Washington Wizards, he showed up 2 hours early to get shots in and set the tone with his tenacity.
If you are looking for a leader to shift the culture and set the example for hard work, look no further than The Brodie.
Mentality is Contagious
One season after Victor Oladipo was traded to OKC, he wanted to change his body and, in turn, his game. He saw how Westbrook worked tirelessly to improve his game, and he wanted to emulate that in himself. OKC eventually traded him to Indiana with Domantas Sabonis in a package for Paul George, but that mentality that he adapted earned him back-to-back All-Star bids.
Speaking of Paul George, he had a rocky start to his time in OKC, shooting 2/7 and scoring 5 points in an elimination game against the Utah Jazz. He took the same mentality as Westbrook and worked on his game going into the next season. He proceeded to have an All-Star, All-NBA, DPOY-consideration, and MVP-Finalist type of season due to that mentality.
Russ has his flaws, I’ll grant you of this. But his attitude, his mentality, and his drive are contagious.
As good as Bradley Beal is now, playing with Russell Westbrook can help elevate his game to an entirely new level.
Scott Brooks stepped in to replace PJ Carlissimo in the 2008-09 season. It was Scott Brooks that first decided to start Russell Westbrook. It was also Scott Brooks that decided to play Russell Westbrook at point guard, despite the media labeling him otherwise.
293-170 is the record of Scott Brooks as a Thunder head coach. The vast majority of those games were spearheaded by Russell Westbrook.
These two have shared success over the course of their time together, and if Westbrook stopping practice to tell Brooks "You still run the same stuff" is any indication of the future, then they will likely find success together once again.
Sure, it’s easy to write off the Wizards after their performance in the bubble and even before that, but even as this season began drawing near, people still thought, "If Wall is healthy the Wizards can make some noise."
I would argue the Wizards have upgraded at point guard, and you would be hard-pressed to find a louder player than Russell Westbrook.
You better stop sleeping on them, because the Wizards are indeed about to make some noise.
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