Russell Westbrook is having an amazing NBA season by any measure. He is on target to become the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season. Wednesday is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s, and thus Westbrook’s, only 2016-17 appearance in Charlotte.
Ten observations on Westbrook’s season:
Is he a foregone conclusion for MVP?
No. James Harden and LeBron James belong in the discussion. Perhaps Kevin Durant, too. Victories become a factor in these discussions, and the Thunder is, frankly, a middling Western Conference team.
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But this is exceptional, right?
Absolutely. What’s cool about this is the Thunder has lost Durant, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, but Westbrook perseveres. Steven Adams is a fine second option, but this is not the Thunder of last season.
You think he leaves?
He’s from Southern California and would be such a natural in the star culture that is the Los Angeles Lakers. But it would be very cool if he appreciated that OKC has been good to him and hangs on for the long haul. It’s not unprecedented. So-Cal native Reggie Miller was a Pacer for life.
What’s the best thing about his game?
The obvious answer is explosion. He can beat anyone he plays off the dribble. But the subtler answer is durability. When you throw yourself at defenders in a pinball-game way, you generally get hurt (see Derrick Rose). He holds up.
What is the Hornets’ best chance to defend him?
A couple of years ago, Steve Clifford moved Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over to defend him, and it produced some good results. I’d do that from the start, with Kemba Walker on Anthony Morrow and Nic Batum on Roberson.
Ultimately, how does the season end up for the Thunder?
At worst, they are a team that is a tough out in the first round. At best, they lose to the Spurs before getting to the conference final.
What makes Westbrook cool?
That he wears clothes that say, “I don’t care what you think, I’m going my own way.” A lot of NBA players have tailors put holes in their jeans because it’s trendy. Westbrook does cutting edge, and that’s distinctive.
Who would be the biggest threat to sign him to a free-agent deal?
I would think the Knicks or Nets. He is into design and fashion, and where else would be a better place in this country to explore those platforms?
Could you see him as a Hornet?
Nah, the Hornets are hitched to Kemba Walker, and appropriately.
What will be his legacy?
The Basketball Hall of Fame sets a fairly low bar, relative to football and baseball. So he is on a course to make it.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell