Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Russell Westbrook apologist. While the barn was burning down and everyone seemed to be piling on with more gasoline, I always felt like the incredible criticism of Westbrook was mostly unfair.
Some were calling him a ballhog, a selfish player or an egotistical maniac, but I saw a guy that was forced into trying to make plays from his point guard position. People are even asking if OKC should trade Westbrook. I mean, uh, I mean, that's stupid.
He maybe called his own number a little too much and his usage went up from the regular season, but for the most part, he was the same old Westbrook that was an All-Star in his third year and second-team All-NBA.
Kevin Durant defended him valiantly after Game 5′s elimination last night saying, “It’s kind of frustrating to see the kind of criticism he’s been getting because he led us by playing the way he’s been playing now the whole season. That’s what made him an All-Star, second team All-NBA. And it kind of baffles me that people just start to criticize because he’s playing like that now.”
Naturally though, you’d expect Durant to always say the right thing no matter what. Because he's Kevin Durant and that's what he always does.
“He didn’t have any choice but to shoot some of those shots, because we were denying everybody else the ball,” he said. “When you deny everybody else from catching the ball, he ain’t got no choice but to go one-on-one.
“Don’t talk bad about that man, because he’s competing out there and he’s playing hard on both ends of the floor. When you deny people from catching the ball, he’s got no choice but to shoot it. Don’t kill him. I don’t like that. He is out there playing hard and competing.”
That’s perfectly put. Westbrook’s choices truly were limited. He was out of options a lot of times because of horrible, stagnant offense, great ball denial defense and double-teaming on Durant. It was either have Westbrook do something or hoist a terrible shot from 20 feet every possession.
Was it a perfect postseason for Westbrook? Hardly. He could’ve been better. The Thunder needed him to be better. If he had performed a bit more under control and taken a few smarter shots, maybe there’s a Game 6 Friday night in OKC. Maybe there's no need because the Thunder already advanced on. But any team can say that about a young player. What if Darren Collison handled the Bulls pressure defense better? What if Ty Lawson were better in the opening round? They weren't and now they'll learn from it.
People got a little too caught up in staring at the box score instead of actually watching Westbrook play. Yeah, he took 28 shots in Game 5. But that's what the Dallas defense was giving him. You really want a guy that averaged 22 a game this year to turn down good looks so that he can force it to his teammate that's double-teamed? What sense does that make?
Westbrook is 22. He just finished his third year. This was his first foray this deep into the playoffs. The fact that he was able to hear every bit of that criticism and shake it off says a lot about his mental fortitude. The guy’s a winner. He plays his butt off every single night.
He’s got to progress a little more, learn from these mistakes and take his team a little deeper. Which I think he can do.