By Seth Fuller
The Fire is Building in Oklahoma,
Can Russel Westbrook Exceed Oklahoma’s Expectations for this Season?
Ever since Russell Westbrook saved the heart of Oklahoma City by re-signing for at least one more year, all I have been hearing is whether he will be able to perform at a level high enough to compensate for KD’s departure to Golden State. There have been stories and opinions concerning how Westbrook was obviously the number two under KD for his last nine seasons with the Thunder and how he is now the official leader of the team. Lastly, and perhaps the most annoying, is that many people are still concerned with the troubled relationship between Westbrook and KD before his departure to last season’s arch-enemy.
I, for one, am not worried whatsoever about Russell Westbrook’s ability to outperform any single person on the basketball court, including the possible matchup against his former partner. If we recall the 2014-2015 season when KD had his foot and ankle injuries, Westbrook became the clear leader of the team and did a phenomenal job. Though we did not make it to the playoffs that year, we did not have the depth that we do now. Westbrook was only the 4th player to complete a season with at least 28 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. He proved that Durant is not absolutely vital to compliment his game. Sure, KD’s efficiency from behind the arc may result in a few more clutch wins, but Westbrook’s ability should never be questioned after that season.
The Thunder has been in Oklahoma City for roughly ten years. It has brought rapid growth and swelling national attention to a widely ignored region in the middle of the U.S. We owe a great debt to both KD and Westbrook for staying faithful for such a long portion of their potential careers in the NBA. We felt during KD’s MVP speech that he would be our franchise player forever similar to Tim Duncan with the Spurs. He was the heartfelt and sincere option whose loyalty we were most confident in. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook was the unpredictable assassin who we assumed would pursue his superstar lifestyle in LA or another high-profile city. This summer shattered both of these beliefs. KD went to perhaps the most hated team of OKC fans, and Westbrook showed his true off-court self in his press conference a couple of weeks ago, and his intention for the time being to remain in OKC. I believe that this has been Westbrook’s identity all along, but his often terrifying personality on the court was the most visible to the eyes of fans and the media.
This attitude ambiguity paired with the boulder –sized chip on his shoulder for being regarded as the number two to KD for almost ten years with no question to change- has lit a fire within him to perform the best we’ve ever seen of him this coming season. I have very high expectations for Westbrook especially after his confession during last season about his excessive shot making. After that press conference, we saw him turn into a fearsome true point guard. He still took more shots than most guards, but overnight realized the importance of involving up and coming players like Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Enes Kanter through assists and second-chance points. This last season was the first time I have seen the Thunder play as one coherent team under the masterful coaching job by Billy Donovan. This may catch some grief in this state, but I normally use the San Antonio Spurs as a benchmark for fluidity and effectiveness, and though we have different playing styles, our game ousted the powerful Spurs and arguably the best coach in the NBA. I think the rest of the country has low expectations for the Thunder with KD gone, but they have another thing coming.