Upbeat Westbrook Rehabbing, Finding Ways to Help

Russell Westbrook’s relentlessness isn’t limited to the basketball floor.

The passion and intensity with which the Thunder point guard plays every possession makes him one of the more unique players in the league. Mental strength and dedication to the craft have always been a hallmark of Westbrook’s game, in addition to his loyalty to his teammates and the Thunder organization. After suffering a season-ending knee injury in Game 2 of the Thunder’s first-round series against the Houston Rockets, those attributes have been even more visible from Westbrook.

“I just try to find a way where I can help,” Westbrook said. “Even though I’m out, I still have a voice. I can still help my team, still find a way where I can communicate things to guys.”

Despite being on crutches and limited in terms of where and how quickly he can get around, Westbrook has been attending Thunder practices and home games, while also maintaining open lines of communication with his teammates.

He has spent the last couple of weeks in Oklahoma, rehabbing from the surgery on his torn meniscus. He’ll continue to do so moving forward, and be ready for the 2013-14 season. Although it’s a challenging and arduous process, Westbrook has been strengthened by the support of Thunder fans, his family and those in the Thunder organization.

“It’s an amazing thing,” Westbrook said. “We have the best fan support in all sports. They do a great job of just supporting you with whatever it is that you may be going through or they may think you’re going through. They help you out and try to find a way to help you get through it.”

In between rehab sessions, Westbrook has been able to be a spectator in Chesapeake Energy Arena for all three of the Thunder’s home Playoff games since his injury, while watching from home during away games. Led by Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and others, the Thunder managed to advance past the Rockets and is now tied 1-1 in its best-of-seven, second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite the adversity of losing its All-Star point guard, the Thunder has adjusted on the fly and persevered, something that has impressed Westbrook.

“We have a tough group of guys,” Westbrook said. “They’re finding a way to win games. … We’ve been together long enough to be able to figure things out when guys go down. I think you can see that.”

One player who has stepped up for the team thus far is Reggie Jackson, the second-year point guard out of Boston College who Westbrook has taken under his wing. Last season Jackson saw some early playing time but was mostly in a student role during the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals, while also spending a few stints with the team’s D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. Early this season, Jackson got some beneficial playing time with the 66ers while also continuing to learn from players like Westbrook and Derek Fisher.

“It’s a huge part (of Jackson’s success),” Westbrook said. “I think the whole process, a lot of people might skip through that –- going down to Tulsa and coming back up and playing in different games. … I think all of that is a process and you can see that is helping him out. He never really looked rattled or anything. He’s just smooth and playing his game.”

Jackson isn’t the only one who has developed their game and stepped up as the season has gone along and over the past few weeks since Westbrook has been out. The sidelined fifth-year point guard believes that he’ll be an improved player after he has completed his rehab because of the perspective he will have gained watching games from a different angle for the first time in his life. For a player who had never missed a single game in his high school, college or professional career, Westbrook is gaining a new view on the game, which will pay dividends moving forward.

“I’ll come back as a better player,” Westbrook said. “Mentally, it’s going to be a big step moving forward with this team. … I think I get an opportunity to sit back. This is my first time basically seeing a game from a different view.”

Ever the competitor, the new vantage point Westbrook has currently is something he not only wants to use in the future to make himself better, but also in the present to help his teammates. Disregarding the fact that he’s not able to be on the court, Westbrook seems to be just as mentally engaged in the dynamics of the game in order to communicate with teammates before, during and after contests. He’s still the team’s point guard, one of its core members and vocal leaders. As Westbrook has proved time and again with his intensity and constant energy, if he can impact winning even the slightest amount or on the margins, he’ll do anything in his power to do so.

“As a point guard and leader of this team, my job is to find a way I can help my teammates, the coaching staff and the organization,” Westbrook said. “They’ve been a big supporter of me and my job is to give it back and help them out as much as I can and give them my input.”