Film Room: Russell Westbrook’s brilliant assists are nothing extraordinary

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 17: Russell Westbrook
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 17: Russell Westbrook /
OKC Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook
CLEVELAND, OH – JANUARY 20: Russell Westbrook #0 of the OKC Thunder handles the ball during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 20, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Last night, the OKC Thunder crushed Lebron James and company 148-124. Russell Westbrook led the way with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 20 assists. However, the night belonged to more than the Brodie alone.

Russell Westbrook’s season stats hover criminally close to last season’s record-setting heroics (24.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 10.1 assists). And yet, Russell Westbrook still finds himself outside the top 7 on’s Kia MVP Ladder. Once again, critics have attributed the Thunder’s uninspiring .565 season record to Westbrook taking too many shots.

And so, seeing Westbrook rack up 20 assists, some instinctively concluded that last night’s success came down to Westbrook being more unselfish. However, after watching game film, that narrative could not be any further from reality.

The truth is that Westbrook played no different from what he has been doing all season. The OKC Thunder simply clicked on about every offensive level imaginable for this team. And boy, when the team starts firing on all cylinders, does it look scary for the rest of the league.

Defensive rebounding

Last season, detractors constantly picked on Russell Westbrook’s defensive rebounding statistics, arguing that Thunder bigs contrived to help Westbrook pad stats. Against the Cavs, Westbrook showed why him snagging defensive rebounds is so much more than that.

Here, Westbrook grabs the rebound and immediately starts surveying the floor ahead. The defense reacts by sticking extra close to their man. Before they know it, Westbrook is already at the cup for the easy layup.

The play above is evidence why detractors do not always understand Westbrook’s game enough. Because Westbrook started off the game doing such a good job penetrating into the lane, Tyronn Lue had no choice but to press his man closer to the Brodie. That, in turn, opened up more space for the rest of the team. All that began with excellent defensive rebounding.

PG13 going humanitarian

To describe Paul George’s hot shooting, game announcer Hubie Brown said, “[George] had so many points, he had enough to feed the needy”. Brown was completely spot on. All night, George feasted on every opportunity.

In this clip, as Russell Westbrook dribbles to the strong side, Paul George sets a light screen on Westbrook’s man. The action gives George a little daylight, enough for him to splash from downtown.

Last night, Paul George took his hot shooting to another level. Westbrook simply had to feed him the same set up, and watch his own assist count go up.

Melo having ‘fun’

Before Carmelo Anthony arrived in OKC, some fans worried that Anthony’s perceived lack of on-court intensity would hold Russell Westbrook back. Last night yielded a funky solution – Westbrook had such a magnificent game because his teammate was having ‘fun’ on the court.

Earlier in the week, Anthony explained that transitioning into a spot-up role has been ‘fun’ for him because of his improved shooting percentages. Against the Cavs, fears of chemistry problems vanished, as Melo embraced his off-ball role, much to the delight of Westbrook’s assist column.

The evidence is rife. As Paul George penetrates, Westbrook stealthily accepts Andre Roberson’s flare screen and pops open along the baseline. The defense reacts, and this gives Westbrook enough time to pick Melo out for the open three. Same Westbrook action, just his teammates starting to connect on their shots.

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Nearing the All-Star Weekend, the OKC Thunder are slowly rounding into form. One by one, the team is starting to iron out its offensive issues. Last night’s game against the Cavs was a nationally-publicized reminder to the rest of the league.

Russell Westbrook’s 20 assist night was certainly sumptuous. But, as the game film suggests, his stats are but icing on the cake. The real meat of the issue is this: the OKC Thunder are starting to roll. And when they do, bandwagoners better get ready.

Next: Five takeaways from the Thunder's domination over Cleveland

Because there is going to be more than enough to feed the needy.