103 Thunder – 105 Nuggets; Russell Westbrook has 47 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, and it could all become meaningless with a single missed shot. He knew that, head coach Billy Donovan knew that, and the fans watching on TV or at the Pepsi Center knew that.
Kyle Singler is handed the game ball by the referee to throw in from the side, OKC possession with 2.9 seconds left on the clock. Westbrook cuts through the key with a screen set by his teammate. He bolts back; losing his defenders on a hard pick from Steven Adams. Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets picks up Westbrook at half court past the screen, leaving Adams wide open to receive the inbound. Westbrook cuts left of Adams, then jabs to the right before receiving the pass from Steven Adams. Jamal Murray turns around and sees Westbrook open for the shot, so he lunges forward to the shot-hungry Russ, who leans into Murray hoping to draw some contact. Mid jump, Murray turns his body away from #0 of the OKC Thunder to avoid a foul call, and instead tries to block his vision of the basket.
Russell Westbrook watches as he sinks his 50th point from 36 feet out. With the end of the game, he beats Oscar Robertson (former MVP) for most triple doubles in a single season (41, Westbrook at the time 42). Even though Westbrook displayed an absolute monster three pointer for the crowd, most critics had still wondered if there was a better shot the Thunder could have taken to win the game.
I practice that shot everyday pregame, so I definitely feel confident in shooting that shot.Russell Westbrook on his game winner against the Denver Nuggets (106-105)
This is the kind of confidence and mentality that Westbrook has carried around his shoulder for his entire career ever since he was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft. Note, this marked the last ever time the Seattle Supersonics would make an NBA Draft appearance before rebranding themselves as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Early career success
Although it was Derrick Rose that ran away with the Rookie of the Year race, Westbrook still showed to the league he was the right pick, averaging 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists along with 1.3 steals on 39% shooting from the field. This performance was enough to give Westbrook 73 first place votes in the race, and enough to gift him the rank of NBA All Rookie First Team.
Perhaps a foreshadowing of what was to come; March 2, 2009 saw Westbrook record his first official career triple-double in the NBA with 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He was the first Rookie to grab a triple-double since Chris Paul and the first rookie in Thunder/Sonics franchise history since Gary Payton.
His second season saw him as a full time starter (we cannot stress how good of a move this was) under Scott Brooks’ Thunder Roster. The previous season, the Oklahoma City Thunder finished with a record of 23-59. With Westbrook starting, the Thunder finished 50-32, turning their franchise around. Russell served 16.1 points, 8.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals throughout the season. This 50-32 record was enough to make them contenders in the NBA Playoffs, where they faced against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Westbrook stepped up his game in the eventual loss to the champions – 20.5 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3.2 steals.
His third season in the NBA proved that he was willing to work harder than anyone else. The head coaches of the NBA teams noticed how much of an improvement he made to his game, and selected him to be a reserve on the 2011 NBA All-Star Game Western Conference Team. This marked Westbrooks first of many All-Star appearances. His averages for the season were 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. The Thunder finished the season with a 55-29 record and Westbrook finished with an All-NBA Second Team.
Fast forward to the Western Conference Finals – Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks faced the legendary duo of Westbrook and Durant. Unfortunately, Russell Westbrook’s 23.8 points, 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds in the entire Playoff run was not enough to secure the Thunder their first NBA Finals appearance since relocating to Oklahoma City.
Next season the Oklahoma City Thunder saw their star point guard and small forward make another NBA All Star Game, where Westbrook saw his teammate win All Star Game MVP, while he himself finished with 21 points off the bench in the win 152-149.
This 2011-2012 season was known as the “lockout” season, meaning less games were played. This didn’t stop Russell Westbrook from being selected to his second All NBA Second Team, notching 23.6 points 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals on the season.
The Playoffs were kind, but not too kind to the Oklahoma City Thunder. who made their first finals appearances as the OKC, but eventually lost in five games to the LeBron James led Miami Heat. Game 1 saw Westbrook join Michael Jordan as the only players to have 25+ points and 10+ assists in an NBA Finals Debut with 27 points and 11 assists to go 1-0 against the Heat. A game 4 loss saw Westbrook pour a career playoff high of 43 points.
Another season, another NBA All Star Game, another All NBA Second Team for Westbrooks accolades. His stellar play led the Thunder to the 1st seed in the Western Conference, posting 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals throughout the season. An injury by Patrick Beverley ended Russell’s solid Playoff run. He was declared out for the playoffs on April 27, and the Thunder felt the lack of his presence deeply, losing in the second round to the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1.
No injury created can stop this man (2013-2016)
A second surgery for the injury he sustained against Patrick Beverley saw reports stating that he’d make an NBA Appearance two to three weeks into the regular season. Westbrook had other ideas, only missing two games and making a contribution right away to the roster. Christmas Day 2013 saw the eighth player to post a triple double on Christmas in Russell Westbrook, lacing up for 14 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds as the Oklahoma City Thunder slaughtered the New York Knicks 123-94. However, the day after his triple double, it was announced that Westbrook would be out until after the All Star Break to undergo an arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Despite their loss, the Oklahoma City Thunder still played at a tremendous pace thanks to Kevin Durant. Westbrook returned to the lineup late February, but played for limited minutes for the rest of the season.
March 4, 2014 let the world know that Russell Westbrook would not let injuries stop him, recording the second fastest triple-double in NBA history (20 minutes). Move forward to the playoffs, where they made the NBA Western Conference Finals with a record of 59-23 (#2 seed in the West) against the San Antonio Spurs. In a game 4 victory, Westbrook saw a legendary statline of 40 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists and 5 steals. Only Michael Jordan met that crazy goal during the Playoffs. Despite his crazy play (26.7 points, 8.1 assists, 7.3 rebounds), the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the eventual NBA Champions in the Spurs.
Opening night of the following season gave Westbrook 38 points, however in a 106-89 loss. The second game was hard to watch for Thunder fans as Westbrook suffered a small fracture of the second metacarpal in his right hand against the Los Angeles Clippers. He missed 14 games with this injury. Teammate Kevin Durant was joined by Westbrook on the sidelines following his fractured right foot during the preseason.
Westbrook may have a personal vendetta against the Knicks, with a comeback game of 32 points to win. Durant returned the following game, which helped the Thunder sneak back into Playoff Contention.
All Star Game 2015 rewarded Russell Westbrook with an All Star Game MVP, notching 41 points (just 1 point shy off Wilt Chamberlain‘s All Star Game record (42)).
Despite his strong showings all throughout the season, his play this season wasn’t enough to lead the short-handed Thunder to the playoffs, finishing with the 9th seed (45-37) once the final game sounded.
However, the 2015-2016 started out strong for teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both scoring 40 points in the opener against the Orlando Magic. They became the first teammates in NBA History to achieve 40+ points in the same game multiple times (accomplished in 2012).
This stellar play saw Russell Westbrook voted into his first ever NBA All Star Game Starting Lineup, earning his second All Star Game MVP with 31 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in just 22 minutes in the 196-173 victory. He became the first player to win consecutive All Star Game MVP’s by himself (Bob Pettit won in 1958, and shared the award with Elgin Baylor in 1959)
This season gave us a bigger hint to his upcoming MVP season, where he finished with 18 triple-doubles, to tie against Lakers Great, Magic Johnson for most triple doubles in a season in the past 50 seasons.
After beating the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and the San Antonio Spurs in the second, they faced against defending champions Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Matchup. 4 games later, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3-1 against Curry, and only needed one more game to advance to the NBA Finals. Of course, we NBA fans don’t like to remember what happened next; Curry hit the near-halfcourt game winner in a three game comeback. It was spectacular to watch as Curry took over the series, but difficult to imagine the heartbreak of Thunder fans.
Durant’s Departure and Westbrooks MVP’s
Westbrook knew he had to step it up this season with Durant’s surprise move to join the Golden State Warriors, the team they lost to in the Conference Finals.
We all know how Westbrook stepped it up, but let’s do a recap of some of the record books he joined with this legendary season;
- 38th career triple double with a 51 point triple double (first 50+ point trip dub since Kareem Abdul Jabbar (1975)
- Joined Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jerry Lucas as the only players in NBA History to have 2 triple doubles in the first three games of the season.
- Second player to average a triple double before December (Oscar Robertson)
- 7 straight triple doubles (longest since Michael Jordan had 7 straight in 1989)
- Joined Robertson (5) and Wilt Chamberlain (2) as the only players in NBA History to have 20 triple doubles in a season
- Averaged a triple double for the season
Westbrook went into Westbeast mode, taking home the MVP Voting easily by averaging a triple double, joining Oscar Robertson as the only player to ever do so.
This game opener proves that Russell Westbrook has something against these Knicks Teams. 2017-2018 season opener saw the reinvented Oklahoma City Thunder battle against the New York Knicks. Westbrook added great teammates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. He notched yet another triple double with 21 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds in a 105-84 win.
Move forward a bit to October 28, and we have simply one of the greatest feats that Russell Westbrook has accomplished; this night saw him post a 12 point triple double against the Chicago Bulls. Now what makes that performance so amazing? It’s the fact that Russell Westbrook has notched at least a single triple double at least every NBA team except for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He had one against us in practice.Carmelo Anthony, jokingly
Despite the Thunder having a negative record to start out the season (8-12), Westbrook and co turned it around, finishing 48-34, making 4th best in the Western Conference. Throughout the season, Westbrook notched his 100th career triple double, joining Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd as the only players to ever achieve 100 or more triple doubles of their career.
In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s last game, Russell Westbrook needed 16 rebounds to do the unthinkable and join his own private club of averaging a triple-double for multiple seasons. Westbrook did that and more, going for a career high 20 rebounds to pair with his 19 assists.
Westbrook; the art of excellence
As we saw, Russell Westbrook has had a career filled with nothing but greatness and the will to win. The two time MVP has given his heart and soul for the game of basketball, and his rewards were well worth the sacrifices. He gives 100% every time he steps onto that basketball court, and delivers amazing performances for the loud crowd of Chesapeake Arena.
Yet he still gets hate.
Despite doing everything this Thunder Franchise could ask of him, there are still some NBA fans that don’t believe Westbrook is an all time great. There are some fans out there that don’t believe he has what it takes, but he does.
Instagram fan account okc_daily said it best with the following;
He’s making history game in and game out! He’s done things that no NBA player has ever done and he still gets hate. In my opinion, the only reason he gets hate is because no one can do what he does!okc_daily on why Westbrook gets hate
He continues to show us every night on that court. And we as an NBA fan base should stop criticising his performances and enjoy his performance while he’s still in his prime.
What’s next for Westbrook?
Westbrook is having another crazy career year, going for perhaps his 3rd triple double season in a row. We’ll leave you with a quote from an Oklahoma City Thunder Instagram fan account, okc_fansized and Instagram fan account okcfanatics.
This season, we’re seeing a new Russell, the Russell that’s doing everything they said he can’t. He’s letting [Paul George] be the main scoring option and taking a backseat; letting him score when he’s hot and adapting his playing a lot. He also began playing [better] defense and this season he should be a contender for an All-NBA Defensive team. His impact on the team is huge even if he doesn’t always shoot well and people need to realize that basketball is a lot more than just making shots. Defense is also 50% of the game. He’s also playing a lot better as a playmaker and making very high IQ plays, something he didn’t do that much of before. His game is on a whole new level now. If he can get back in the shooting rhythm we’re [Thunder fans] all set. And don’t forget he’ll always be the leader of the team.okc_fansized
What makes Russ different from everyone else is he can be playing his worst basketball and still get a triple double. He can be shooting bad but still playing defense. Regardless if Westbrook is on, his athleticism and heart puts him on another level… if Russ is on… he’s the hardest player on Earth to guard. If he’s not… he’ll give your team a triple double and 5 steals.okcfanatics
A note from the Author of this article
This article took me many weeks to plan and produce over the Christmas holidays, and I hope it was worth reading it. A lot of research and backtracking took place to ensure that this article was true to its word, and shone Westbrook under a new light for most haters of his game. Of course, I couldn’t have completed this without the help of some fan accounts on Instagram. They made my research easier and gave me some topics to go off of. Go to each of their pages and give them a follow!