Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double last season en route to winning his first MVP award. He won because of course he did; if Kendrick Perkins averaged a triple-double he’d win MVP too, even though a team featuring Kendrick Perkins averaging a triple-double would likely not win a game.
Westbrook accomplished the feat because he felt playing that way gave his team the best chance to win, and also because he’s as close as the NBA has to a sociopath on the court. But playing that kind of style is also inherently limiting; if one player is clearly going to try to go 1-on-5, consequences be damned, it makes that team predictable, and predictable means easier to defend, if you have the personnel.
The Golden State Warriors clearly have that personnel, and a new book hints that they didn’t fear Russ at all. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said as much on the most recent Lowe Post podcast (with guest Ryen Russillo):
Transcription via CBS Sports:
“Jack McCallum’s new book about the Warriors has a bunch of kind of anonymous Warriors talking about Russ and how they don’t fear Russ. How KD left partly cause of Russ. How Russ’s style of play is so easy for them to defend it’s like cake to them.”
“I’ve talked to the Warriors about his kind of stuff. What’s in Jack’s book is 100 percent what they say when you ask them about Russ.”
And honestly, there’s truth to that! The Thunder weren’t a great team last year, though they made the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference mostly thanks to Westbrook’s attacking play. But he had other decent players on the team, players the Thunder were able to trade for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in a (successful) effort to convince Westbrook to extend his time in Oklahoma City. (An extension he signed on Kevin Durant’s birthday, which with any other players would be purely a coincidence, but in this case was almost definitely on purpose.)
This year’s Thunder are going to be a lot of fun to watch, but let’s remember that Westbrook’s mentality helped make Kevin Durant’s decision to leave easier. Too many of these possessions:
If he wasn’t going to pass it more often to Durant, is he really going to pass it more often to Paul George? Is a season of playing some of the best individual basketball in recent memory, for better and worse, really going to have taught him the value of relying on star teammates?
No one knows!
But it’ll be really interesting to find out.
(Also he’s really going to try and destroy Golden State now, too, as if he wasn’t already going to try.)