Russell Westbrook is quietly changing the way he plays and evolving into a more mature basketball player.
It’s gone unnoticed for the most part. Westbrook’s change in play doesn’t always pass the eye test as he still seems to force things that aren’t there every now and then and take bad shots.
But the numbers don’t lie. Westbrook’s assists have shot up this season from 5.5 last season to 8.6 this year.
Kevin Durant put it best.
“He’s just slowing down. Taking his time,” said Kevin Durant. “As you start to grow in this league, the game starts to slow down for you a little bit. You start to see things earlier than you would the first or second year. So he’s just getting everybody involved … He’s sacrificing shots for himself to mix it around for the whole team. That’s what great point guards do and he’s having a helluva season.”
That’s exactly what we’re seeing. The game is absolutely slowing down for Westbrook. He’s making better decisions this season and is more calculated than ever before.
This was the difference last year in the NBA Finals between the Thunder and the Miami Heat. The game slowed down a long time ago for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And fresh off an NBA Finals appearance the year before, LeBron and Wade were ready for every big moment in that series.
That’s what happens in this league. Westbrook and Durant were great in the Finals last year but everything they did felt rushed, like the pedal was always to the metal. It’s the ability to be great and calm at the same time that is the next evolution for this team.
Westbrook is leading the way in that growth this year, partly because he has the most room for improvement in that area. The Thunder took a hit when they traded James Harden right before the start of the season but Westbrook’s changed game has resulted in a higher winning percentage for the Thunder and more balanced attack than ever.
The Thunder have four players averaging 15 or more points per game now with Kevin Martin and Segre Ibaka joining Westbrook and Durant. The Thunder are averaging more assists per game as a team as well with the improvement from last season being just about the same improvement Westbrook has had.
The Thunder still have a lot of work to do to become legitimate title contenders but thanks to Westbrook, they’re further along that path than many thought they’d be so far this season.