Rare Athleticism, Heady Decision-Making Help Westbrook Rank Among Elite Rebounding Guards

Back in the day, rebounding was typically left for the big men.

When you think of some of the top rebounding guards in league history, names like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Fat Lever come to mind. Seeing a point guard repeatedly leave the backcourt to crash the boards was a sight not often seen.

But as the game has continued to evolve, we’re seeing more and more guards crash the boards. Rajon Rondo, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul are a few.

Russell Westbrook has joined that company but also stands alone.

The argument could be made that few, if any, guards past or present have the athleticism or explosiveness with which Westbrook attacks the glass for rebounds.

Westbrook plays like he has springs in his legs.

Entering Monday’s game against Utah, Westbrook ranked seventh among guards in overall rebounding at 5.5 a game and third in offensive rebounds per game at 1.9. It’s a noted improvement from last season, when Westbrook finished seventh among guards in overall rebounding (4.9 per game) and first in offensive boards (1.7).

On any given night, it’s not uncommon to watch Westbrook pogo stick his way to the boards for a rebound, often leaping over players nine inches taller than him.

“I just go and get it,” Westbrook said recently. “I just jump, basically. It all depends. Sometimes I can see where the ball’s going to be at. If a guy shoots from the corner, most of the time it’s going to end up on the opposite side.”

Westbrook has become a threat on both ends of the floor when it comes to rebounding, but the manner in which he rebounds on the offensive glass has become both a spectacle and a spark plug for fans and teammates alike.

Throughout his three years in the league, Westbrook’s offensive rebounds have often come at the right time, whether in crunch time of a close game, when the Thunder is clicking on all cylinders or when it needs a jolt. Six of his 11 rebounds came on the offensive end in an overtime win against Portland earlier this season and he’s grabbed at least one offensive rebound in every game this season.

“Most point guards aren’t programmed to box out,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s not what they do. They look for an outlet pass. They trust the other four guys are going to get the rebound. But with Russell we like him to go to the offensive boards. That’s one of his strengths. It gives us an extra possession and he’s a lot smarter with the attempts and he’s a lot smarter when he gets it. His rookie year he was getting them and putting them up and getting the block right away. Now he understands that you can’t always go up blindly and not expect the big man to respond with a block. But Russell’s done a great job with offensive rebounds.”

Westbrook said that opponents have become more aware of his prowess on the offensive boards.

“They hit me sometimes,” he said, “but sometimes I’m able to fight it off.”

How and when he goes for an offensive rebound depends on the opponent and flow of the game. Against a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, for example, Westbrook scaled back his attempts at offensive rebounds because the Sixers are a team that likes to get out in transition. The same went for Sunday’s opponent in the San Antonio Spurs, which entered that game ranked second in fast break points.

Brooks said there are times when Westbrook has to control his temptation to crash the offensive glass. It’s about picking and choosing his spots. If there are no gaps to attack, Westbrook has to be one of the first Thunder players to the other end of the floor.

“Our philosophy is when Russell attacks, you have to have some balance between the 2s and the 3s,” Brooks said. “They have to understand that part of Russell’s game and get back and cover up for him. We like Russell attacking. He has to pick his spots and he’s done a good job with that.”

Added Westbrook: “It’s instinct. It’s something you do. If you’re going to do it, go get it. If not, then get back.”

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