Player Focus: Russell Westbrook
Russ. Brodie. Beastbrook. Mr Triple Double.
These are all names that Russell Westbrook has listed under the nicknames section on Basketball Reference. Some he's made himself, others have been given to him by various analysts and media members. Ask the regular NBA fan what his nickname is though and the answer you'll most likely get is 'Westbrick'.
How Westbrook came to be so maligned by so much of the NBA's fan-base is one of the more perplexing happenings in the past decade.
A former MVP, face of the franchise in Oklahoma, nine-time All-NBA member, nine time All-Star and two-time scoring champion, Westbrook has accomplished nearly everything one could hope to in a career except raise the Larry O'Brien Trophy. From all of those highs however, his star has diminished significantly in the past few seasons.
Whether it was being labelled a cancer in Houston alongside James Harden, his cup of coffee in Washington, his underwhelming stint with the Lakers or his penchant for continuing to take shots his percentages would suggest he shouldn't, fans turned on Westbrook no matter who he found himself suiting up for.
Westbrook provided ample amount of energy and intensity as the Clippers won Game 1 of their series against the Suns.
With the Lakers, Westbrook was handed the keys to the second unit and told to drive the car. The problem was, the car was so badly broken and full of G-League calibre players that he was forced into doing things that are not his strengths, and as such, looked like a shell of his former self. Fast forward to his stint with the Clippers, and we can see the value of not only of the Head Coach, but also what depth across a roster can afford.
The Clippers can surround Westbrook with shooters to spread the floor for him, allowing him to use his speed and athleticism to shine, something the Lakers didn't have the luxury of doing. They also have a Head Coach willing to work with his strengths while working to minimise his weaknesses through game-plan and positioning. This is not to throw shade at Coach Ham and the Lakers brass, but rather to highlight the importance of having a Head Coach and his staff believe in a player and be steadfast in their ability to put any player in a position to succeed.
Game 1 against the Suns in Phoenix was the perfect example of how Westbrook can help a team when he is given reign to be himself and put in positions to be successful. Lue challenged Westbrook to guard former teammate Kevin Durant for stretches (which he excelled at) and to bring non-stop energy on the glass to help exploit the Suns lack of rebounding. He responded with trademark energy and aggression, despite shooting 3-19 from the field.
If he were still a Rocket, Wizard or Laker, Westbrook likely wouldn't have seen the minutes Lue gave him, let alone been on the floor for the game deciding play which saw him block Devin Booker with less than 20 seconds left.
Westbrook rises up for the game-saving block against Devin Booker at the end of Game 1.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Westbrook is the Clippers X-factor. Without Paul George, he proved it in Game 1.
It's unlikely he will continue to have the same impact night in, night out, but if he can be close to his Game 1 output three more times, the Clippers might just make it out of the first round.