Russell Westbrook: the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles and misguided critics | Washington Wizards

The hot-take ecosystem in sports activities is unforgiving and relentless. There may be no waffling or clinging to the fence. There can solely be cannonballing into one aspect of an argument or one other – arduous and quick sufficient to interrupt the sound barrier, ideally. On this land of fever and fury Stephen A Smith is like that volcano churning away in Iceland, continually on hearth, all the time popping off.

Final week ESPN’s king of scream seemed primed to go full Vesuvius when a latest sport between the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards was broached for dialogue on his weekday morning shout present, First Take. The primary takeaway from that sport, the Wizards’ third victory in 11 tries, was this stat line: 35 factors, 21 assists and 14 rebounds in 39 minutes performed; solely Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson have come near that efficiency – and even so, they by no means scored or rebounded fairly that a lot.

It was the type of effort that normally has Screamin’ A gushing about stated participant being “an issue” or “a nasty man”. However when that dangerous man turned out to be the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook, properly, there was an issue. Mount St Yellin was left completely chilly. After 30 seconds of compulsory “due-respect” preamble, Smith stopped mincing his phrases. “Westbrook’s numbers final night time imply completely nothing to me,” he said with sober certitude. “After we take a look at his sport, it’s the similar stuff yearly. (…) However I’m at some extent in time in [Westbrook’s] profession the place it ain’t about that no extra. It’s about whether or not or not you may get to a different stage to win the chip.”

Then it was the flip of Westbrook’s spouse, to erupt. “I don’t know what number of occasions I’ve to be minding my very own enterprise and randomly be subjected to you slandering my husband (who additionally occurs to be minding his personal enterprise, being glad and residing his greatest life),” she wrote on Instagram.

Westbrook himself was extra philosophical. “I grew up in the streets,” the Lengthy Seashore, California, native informed reporters. “I don’t must be an NBA champion. I do know many individuals that received NBA championships that’s depressing, haven’t completed nothing for his or her neighborhood, haven’t completed nothing for the individuals of our world.

“I don’t say a lot. I don’t like to return and forth about individuals, however one factor I gained’t permit to occur anymore is to let individuals create narratives and continually simply discuss shit for no cause about me.”

Pity Westbrook, the incandescent level guard who assists on so many sturdy opinions – all of them ostensibly so private. He does himself no favors by being so rattling compelling to look at on courtroom.

Like Michael Jordan earlier than him, the 6ft 3in Westbrook approaches the sport as if somebody may be watching him for the first time, so deep is his dedication to not simply exhibiting up on courtroom each night time however giving the most effort. He’s a nine-time All-Star, an NBA MVP winner. He’s twice led the league in scoring and as soon as dropped 43 factors in an NBA finals sport. He must be proper subsequent to Magic and the Massive O in the Corridor of Fame when it’s all stated and completed.

Most spectacular: Westbrook missed zero video games via the first 5 years of his profession whereas distinguishing himself as a manufacturing marvel. In Yr 12, at 32, Westbrook leads the league in triple doubles whereas averaging a triple-double himself. The extra he achieves, alas, the tougher Smith and others discover it to withstand the temptation to dwell on his shortcomings.

Russell Westbrook leads the NBA in triple doubles whereas averaging a triple-double himself. {Photograph}: Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE/Getty Pictures

They by no means fail to convey up these 11 seasons he spent in Oklahoma Metropolis, ripe fodder for a 30 for 30 documentary to-be-named-later. For the bulk of that point, these groups featured not solely Westbrook but additionally Kevin Durant and James Harden – that’s proper, three of the last five MVP winners. However when these groups both couldn’t get out of the Western Convention or had been turned again in the NBA finals by that different tremendous workforce in Miami – and Durant and Harden left and discovered success on their very own – it turned nearly too handy guilty Westbrook for holding again the group, whilst he was placing the ending touches on his MVP season with the Thunder in 2017.

A failed reunion with Harden in Houston through a 2019 commerce all however sealed Westbrook’s on-court fame as a egocentric stat chaser; by no means thoughts that he turned the third participant in historical past to compile 19,000 factors, 6,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists in a profession whereas taking part in in Mike D’Antoni’s Harden-isolated offense. And now, after being swapped for Washington stalwart John Wall and a future lottery decide late final yr, Westbrook can’t even get credit score for the emergence of Bradley Beal – the longtime Wall sidekick turned stopgap who’s at present main the league in scoring. If something, this hurts Westbrook much more.

It’s lengthy been typical knowledge in the NBA {that a} workforce wants at minimal two star gamers to be a championship risk. However with Westbrook and Beal in the backcourt, Washington languish in the Japanese Convention cellar with Orlando and Detroit – neighbors who a minimum of can say they not too long ago divested themselves of their greatest gamers. In the meantime, the Hawks and the Knicks – the Knicks! – are thriving. As a substitute of tutting at first-year GM Tommy Sheppard for creating a lot roster imbalance or roasting coach Scott Brooks for his traditionally numb and dumb rotational really feel, the debate stalls out on how significantly better the Wizards can be or how rather more spectacular Westbrook can be as a expertise if he might pile up three-pointers like Damian Lillard, who would in all probability commerce careers with him at this level.

Conversations about NBA historical past begin in the previous and leap into the current. If Michael Jordan had performed the sport now, he’d common higher than 50 an evening. But when Westbrook had been despatched again in time 30 years? Shoot, it’s nearly too straightforward to think about him being as revered as the Massive O was in his day, asserting dominance along with his midrange sport when he wasn’t successful rebound battles towards the likes of Charles Barkley – who, in fact, can totally relate. Clearly, most Westbrook critics have the man all mistaken. He’s not some hoops cyborg who has been programmed to play the sport to fulfill his personal ends. He’s extra like the Buddhist monk who spends weeks etching a sand mandala solely to wipe the slate clear in the finish. Westbrook performs not for his legacy, however for the second. The reward is the work.

There’s nonetheless loads time left on the clock for Westbrook to go ring chasing if certainly he chooses to drag a Blake Griffin or a LaMarcus Aldridge down the street – or higher but: lastly hooks up with a coach who understands how greatest to take advantage of his singular skillset. In the meantime perhaps Westbrook and the Stephen A’s of the world will see that they’re actually not that far aside. Which is to say: there’s loads of leisure worth in watching each so long as neither is taken too critically.

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