With Paul George and Carmelo Anthony now in OKC, we could be looking at a whole new Brodie in 2018.
Over the course of his nine-year career, Russell Westbrook has amassed a treasure trove of NBA awards and accolades: six All-Star appearances (including two All-Star MVPs), two scoring titles, two All-NBA First Team honors, and finally the NBA MVP award last year. However, there may be room for yet another in his trophy case this season.
Could Russell Westbrook win Teammate of the Year in 2018? The short answer: no. With past winners including Chauncey Billups, Shane Battier, Tim Duncan, and Vince Carter, the award recognizes the under-appreciated or overlooked players of the league, namely aging veterans transitioning out of their prime. The Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki took home the honor last season, with Tyson Chandler, Udonis Haslem, Jason Terry, and Mike Miller in close contention.
Nevertheless, in recognition of “selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team,” Westbrook seems to meet all the listed prerequisites of the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.
While Kevin Durant may disagree, Westbrook has displayed tremendous personal growth and a marked departure from his ball hog reputation to the start season. Ultimately, his ability to adjust his one-man show to a team-first mentality will be key to the Thunder’s success in 2017-18.
Five years ago, any mention of Russell Westbrook within the same breath as Teammate of the Year would have been unthinkable. Since his days at UCLA, Russ has enjoyed soaking up the spotlight on the court, always craving the last shot no matter how unwise.
In fact, following his ugly playoff exit against the Warriors last summer, eight-year teammate Kevin Durant insinuated that Westbrook’s selfish tendencies played a major role in his free agency decision.
Westbrook on Durant’s comments this week: “That’s cute. We’re gonna worry about all the selfish guys we’ve got over here, apparently.” pic.twitter.com/FLjzjAZgla— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) October 13, 2016
After a disappointing first-round exit, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a major splash this offseason, acquiring Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton. Oh, yeah—and a couple of guys named Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Yet while the added firepower certainly boosted OKC’s season forecast, many wondered how the team’s chemistry would develop with three on-ball talents.
In 2016-17, the star trio combined for 60.8 field goal attempts against only 16.6 assists per game with the Thunder, Pacers, and Knicks. Each finished within the league’s top 20 in usage percentage, while they converted an average of just one-in-four two-pointers off assists. Now, with only 100 possessions available to split amongst themselves, there will be no room for ego if the experiment is to succeed.
On opening night, Westbrook attempted just 12 field goals in 33 minutes, instead electing to feed teammates like Anthony, George, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Jerami Grant. His 16 total assists were the 10th most of his career, while his number of shot attempts was exactly half of last year’s nightly average. Despite delivering the season’s first triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 16 assists, a look at the shot chart shows a striking difference between ‘17-’18 Russ and his past incarnations.
2008-2016 total field goal attempts vs. 2017 Opening Night (10/19/17)
While 48% of Westbrook’s career attempts consist of two-point jumpers, he did not attempt a single one in his first game alongside George and Anthony. Similarly, compared to his usual 3.4 three-point attempts per game, he heaved up only one to beat the clock following a Melo miss. Instead, he primarily attacked the rim and earned 10 chances at the charity stripe, foregoing the tough shot in favor of the extra pass.
Though such a drastic shift in style may be unsustainable, Westbrook is currently averaging a career high in assists (12.0) through the first five games of 2017-18, while his 16.6 shot attempts are his fewest since his sophomore season. Despite Oklahoma City’s rocky 2-3 start, Russ has clearly displayed the maturity to sacrifice his personal stats and preferences for the success of the team. If he can continue to do so, the Thunder will develop into a dangerous force as their leaders learn to jell.
Since Durant’s departure, Westbrook has become the undeniable heart and soul of the Oklahoma City franchise. He led the team in minutes last season, racking up 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest—the NBA’s first triple-double average since Oscar Robertson in 1962. However, his leadership expands far beyond the stat sheet as he has embraced the responsibility of mentor, role model, and loyal teammate.
Russ was NOT having it 😂 pic.twitter.com/JLTG7H3R7I— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 23, 2017
Yet while Westbrook’s on-court assist rate has been near unrivaled, so too have his off-court contributions. In 2015, Westbrook earned the NBA’s Community Assist Award and a $25,000 donation toward his Why Not? Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping children in need. Past events hosted by Why Not? include annual Thanksgiving meals, Christmas parties, basketball clinics, and the dedication of ten new reading rooms for local schools.
Commitment and Dedication to the Team
Westbrook was drafted fourth overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008, just one week before the franchise reached an agreement to rebrand as the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has since re-signed with the team on three separate occasions: once in 2012 (five-year/$80M), once in 2016 (three-year/$85M), and again after inking an extension this summer (five-year/$205M) for the largest deal in NBA history. If he exercises his option for 2022-23, he will have far surpassed Gary Payton, Fred Brown, and Nick Collison for longest-tenured player in the history of the franchise.
Yet while his relationship with the Thunder has certainly been lucrative, Westbrook’s loyalty has been driven by far more than money. He and DeAndre Jordan are the sole two members of the 2008 draft class to still remain with their original team. Had he tested the free agent market instead, any GM would have made the necessary financial maneuvers to acquire him. Though he would have had to settle for a max contract in lieu of the supermax, another franchise may have been better suited to appease his competitive nature and winning mentality.
Nevertheless, he pledged his faith in the Thunder for the long haul—an act of special significance in contrast to Durant’s alleged betrayal. Although Westbrook is originally a native of Hawthorne, CA, he has fully embraced Oklahoma City as his home and vice versa. In gratitude for his commitment to the team and his community, August 4 was officially declared “Russell Westbrook Day” by mayor Mick Cornett in 2016.
While the Thunder have reached the NBA Finals only once, in 2012, they could have a shot at going all the way in 2018 thanks to Westbrook’s evolution. However, his ability to become the ideal teammate holds implications far beyond this season, as both George and Anthony are eligible for free agency next summer. Any hope of re-signing the duo depends upon Westbrook’s capacity to keep them involved, excited, and hopeful across the next 77 games, and however many games lay beyond that in the playoffs.
If he continues to keep George and Anthony involved, excited, and hopeful, his contributions to Oklahoma City both on and off the court should earn the Brodie the clear recognition of 2017-18 Teammate of the Year—with or without the trophy.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-reference.com
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