BOSTON — Aside from LeBron James, Russell Westbrook might be the most polarizing player in the NBA. Basketball fans either love or hate the Oklahoma City guard and the constant frenetic pace at which he plays, with his detractors claiming he is not a pure point guard and his defenders insisting he brings a unique combination of talents to the position.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was tasked with drawing up a game plan to slow down Westbrook, as well as Kevin Durant, in Friday’s game against the Thunder. From the sound of it, Rivers is an unabashed Westbrook fan.
“Westbrook’s a great player,” Rivers said shortly before tipoff. “That’s where I always leave it with him.”
But that is not, in fact, where Rivers left it. He went on to recount a conversation he had with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Rivers’ son Austin last year. The legendary “Coach K” is also a Westbrook supporter, which might surprise the purists who decry the guard’s aggressive nature.
“How many ‘Oh, [crap]!’ guys are there in the league?” Krzyzewski told Rivers. “Westbrook is one of them. When you see Westbrook and you’re the guard on the other side, you’re saying, ‘Oh, [crap],’ before the game starts.”
Twelve games into his fifth NBA campaign, Westbrook once again is displaying everything people love and hate about him. He entered Friday’s matchup averaging 20.8 points, 8.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, as well as 2.8 turnovers per game, which is actually a career low and is more than a full assist fewer than Rajon Rondo‘s average. Despite averaging five fewer points per game than Durant, Westbrook was taking more shots per 36 minutes. Yet some fans might be surprised that this is the third time in four seasons that Westbrook has averaged more than eight assists per game, and that the Thunder have gotten deeper in the playoffs every year during that time. Westbrook also hauls in 1.5 offensive rebounds per game, the highest average among point guards.
“That’s who Westbrook is,” Rivers said. “He’s an athletic freak. He really is. Rondo’s an amazing offensive rebounder for his size. Westbrook is one of the best I’ve ever seen for his size at a guard spot, and with the ability to get back on [defense] as well. He’s going to get criticized because he scores and all that, but you don’t have to be a traditional point guard anymore.”
Friday’s game promised to be a clash of styles between two point guards, but Westbrook and Rondo had more in common than it may seem. Each player has his critics, but each is indispensable in his own right.
Photo via Facebook/Russell Westbrook