Westbrook’s Leadership Boosting Thunder Early

More than a conduit for the messages coming from the sideline, Russell Westbrook is, in effect, a coach on the floor.

As the Thunder powers through the first week of training camp, new head coach Billy Donovan and his staff have a general on the hardwood to help facilitate the lessons that the team is learning. Players young and old are digesting the basics of Donovan’s new defensive and offensive systems and Westbrook has been there to aid that process.

Many of Donovan’s general concepts are familiar, although the terminology and smaller details may be different, so naturally, there’s a learning curve. An integral part of making that a smooth process has been that Donovan and his point guard have understood one another in terms of what has been communicated not just for Westbrook’s job, but for all five men on the court. 

“He knows his position and he knows the four other positions,” Donovan said.

“That speaks volumes to just how cerebral a guy he is out there on the court and how much he sees,” Donovan continued. “As a coach, that’s great because I can get a lot of feedback from him.”

Donovan has been in the building all summer- studying film, analyzing data and meeting with coaches and players. All of that preparation has been crucial to the team’s ability to have a plan and begin executing it as training camp commenced.

Having Westbrook by his side has also been extremely valuable to Donovan, not just to deliver his message, but to provide his input and guidance. Westbrook has helped build the culture here in Oklahoma City and holds an ownership in the standards set within the organization. As a result, the four-time All-Star has an intimate knowledge of his teammates and the spirit of the team as a whole.

“That’s very helpful to me in terms of what kind of pace we’re keeping our team on as it relates to adding different things,” Donovan explained. “He has a good pulse of the team, he has a good pulse of the game and he has a good pulse of who are the guys who maybe need a little bit of extra attention and understanding of what we’re doing.”

The natural progression that Westbrook has made from the first day he donned a Thunder jersey to now has allowed him to gradually improve every aspect of his game. Albeit from afar up until a few months ago, Donovan has a unique vantage point of Westbrook’s growth over the years.

From coaching against him in college to watching him in the intervening years to seeing him up close and personal this fall, Donovan has been blown away by the commitment and relentlessness with which Westbrook has approached his profession.

“If you look at where he started his career in high school then going through college and then his career here in the NBA, he’s gotten better and better every year,” Donovan said. “That’s a great tribute to his dedication, his intelligence and how hard he’s worked.”

It’s not just on the court or in the film room where Westbrook has ratcheted his game up a level each season, but also in the finer points and nuances of being a leader. The point guard typically has one of the most challenging jobs on the floor on both ends, and Westbrook has embraced that. It’s taken a deep investment, but throughout the years, Westbrook has managed to get returns, both personally and in relation to the team.

Now, entering his eighth season in the NBA, he has a chance to take another step forward in his game. Just as there always are for a point guard, there will be obstacles to hurdle and difficulties to persevere through.

The ability to approach all of those with the same, consistent, positive attitude will be critical as the regular season nears. Over the first few days, Westbrook has simply been happy to reunite with his teammates, to help foster learning and to move steadily towards where the team wants to be come late October.

“It’s been great to get back and get into the swing of things,” Westbrook said. “The season is around the corner.”