The much maligned Russell Westbrook made huge strides this season. After missing the previous playoffs due to knee surgery and then having an interrupted start to the 2013-14 campaign, Westbrook got it all together and put together a terrific season of basketball. Despite playing only half the number of games, Westbrook put up terrific numbers and came up big, time and time again in the playoffs. Well and truly entrenched in the “best point guard in the NBA” discussions, Russ can still work on a couple of things this off season that might benefit himself and the Thunder team and put them over that final hurdle.
Offensive Grade: A
There aren’t too many players who can get to the rim and finish as well as Russell Westbrook. He is athletic, quick and strong and very hard to contain. Opposing defenses have trouble staying in front of him and his constant assault on the paint makes him tough to deal with. Russ also possesses a terrific mid range jumper – especially in transition on the foul line pull up – and can knock down the long range shot as well. The only thing that stops Russ getting an A+ grade is his tendency to sometime be too aggressive and in attack mode too often. On occasion he has been known to take an ill-advised shot, or a quick shot that isn’t required.
Keys for improvement – nobody is perfect and Russ isn’t either. He needs to improve his poise and decision making which will make him even more dangerous. If he can develop a more consistent outside shot and really work hard to find the balance of attacking the rim and finding shots in rhythm then look out league.
Defensive Grade: B+
Westbrook is a very good defender. He has all the physical tools and attributes to be a great defender though, he just needs a little focus and work. His strength allows him to body up opposition guards and his quickness sees him intercept numerous passes by getting in the passing lane. When switched on he can absolutely lock down an opponent, but the challenge is for him to do this all the time.
Keys for improvement – stop gambling and work harder for longer. That is it in a nutshell. Russ has all the tools and the basketball IQ to be one of the better defenders in the league and with a little maturity and development he will be. Needs to focus on slipping over the top of screens rather than going under them, and defending the space not just gambling on the pass.
Westbrook is fearless. He plays with that high-octane energy and with so much heart. He is a very polarizing figure because of this and his scowl can be interpreted in any number of ways, but what you do know is this. Westbrook is a warrior who will go to battle for you every night. He is an amazing athlete and physical specimen – like he has been purposely built to play this game, this position – this way. Again, with a little maturity, poise and development in his basketball IQ (decision making, attitude etc) this easily goes to an A+ grade – and he has shown in spurts it can.
Keys for improvement – now that Russ is healthy, it is only the mental aspect of the game that really needs any work. His understanding of the team concept, the roles that everyone plays and making the right basketball play at the right moment in time – that is where he can improve.
Overall Grade: A
You cannot possibly grade one of the best guards in the game any lower. Most people would do anything to get a guy like Russ on their side and the Thunder are lucky to have him. His high risk high reward style of play could be altered slightly as he matures and plays within the system and that is when Westbrook will challenge his teammate in the top 5 NBA players list. It has been a whirlwind journey with Russ, as most games often are when he is on the floor – but he is an integral part of this team, this franchise’s strategy and future.