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In his first nine seasons, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has been known as one of the top players in the NBA. His competitive personality alone has made him one of the most feared players. However, his play the past few seasons has hindered the Thunder rather than helped.
In 2009, the Thunder took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games before Pau Gasol secured a buzzer-beater to end Oklahoma City’s playoff hopes. The Thunder proceeded to win over 68% of their regular season games in five out of the following six seasons, with one NBA Finals appearance and two Western Conference appearances along the way.
The knock on Westbrook began back at UCLA, where he played with Kevin Love, Darren Collison and other eventual NBA starters. After failing to gain merits at a collegiate level, Westbrook was met with further criticism in 2014. That year, fellow superstar and teammate Kevin Durant missed 55 games. The team won less than 50% of their games with Westbrook, as opposed to winning 67% of their games with Durant on the court. In fact, from 2009-2015, the 2014-15 season was the only season the Thunder missed the the playoffs.
To be fair, Oklahoma City hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to head coaches. At first glance, Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan have combined for 650+ wins over the last decade. However, it’s evident that players within the Thunder organization have improved after transitioning elsewhere. For example, both James Harden and Victor Oladipo have become All-Star players and leaders for their respective franchises.
After Durant left for the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook was left as the lone star in the 2016-2017 season. For that, he doesn’t deserve the criticism he receives when it comes to his usage rate and shot percentage in that select season. The following year, the Thunder gained Paul George in a trade with the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Victor Oladipo. However, Westbrook showed once again he is unable to succeed with multiple chefs in the kitchen, failing to get past the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Westbrook has consistently taken more shots than Paul George, and did the same when Kevin Durant was on the team. In fact, this amount inflates during the course of the postseason. In 7 of his last 19 playoff series,Westbrook has shot less than 40%. After two disappointing playoff stints, Russell Westbrook is now 3-15 in his last 18 playoff games. On the road in the playoffs, he has yet to win a game since 2016.
In each of his last two playoff series, Westbrook has clearly taken his matchups against Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard personally. In elimination games, he has taken 36 shots per game on 41%. If this trend continues, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be forced to watch their superstars continue to suffer within the same gear.
Featured Image: Steve Dykes, Getty Images