Brodie’s Comin’ – Westbrook, Thunder Determined to be Back Better
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | email@example.com
Just 12 hours after the Thunder’s season ended back in late April, everyone who trekked from Salt Lake City back to Oklahoma was still bleary-eyed and road-weary. Russell Westbrook, as usual, was fresh-faced, determined and still stinging from the Thunder’s Game 6 loss to the Utah Jazz.
“I don't like breaks,” Westbrook stated. “I like to play.”
During this summer, Westbrook knows he’ll get an opportunity to spend more time with his one-year-old son, but there’s that competitive drive, the furious, raging fire within him to compete that can’t be quelled. Regardless of what outside pundits suggested, Westbrook believes that the Thunder didn’t meet its own expectations in the 2017-18 season. He is intent on getting the group together to problem-solve this summer, and to come back better individually too.
“(Westbrook) is going to keep coming. He's not going to kick his feet up and expect to come back next year and have things just all of the sudden be a little bit different,” said General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti.
“He takes the responsibility of a point guard and a leader very serious,” Head Coach Billy Donovan added.
The Thunder’s 7-time All-Star point guard became the first player in NBA history to ever average a triple-double in back-to-back seasons, or to accomplish that feat more than once for that matter. He led the league in total assists with 820 and assists per game at 10.3 per contest just one season after winning the scoring title.
Despite some major changes to the roster and some adversity during the season, the Thunder managed the fourth seed in the Western Conference before falling in the first round of the playoffs. For many organizations, that would be an excellent season. For the Thunder it was somewhat of a letdown compared to the team’s own assessment of its capability in all facets of the game – including ball movement on offense, defensive rotations and free throw shooting. Much like the team as a whole, Westbrook’s approach this offseason will be his typical, holistic approach to improving his game.
“For me, I always like to put my game into perspective and try to figure out what I can do to be better,” Westbrook said. “I say everything all the time because that's truly what I mean, and that's what I have to do because I believe that I'm able to do that.”
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One particular area of focus for Westbrook, according to Presti, is his three-point shooting. With the way the league has changed and evolved over the course of Westbrook’s 10 years in Oklahoma City, a premium has been placed on the ability to space the floor and be a threat from behind the arc at all five positions. After shooting a career-best 34.3 percent from behind the arc in 2016-17, Westbrook dipped back down to 29.8 percent last season. Presti disclosed that during the season he witnessed Westbrook in the gym late at night honing his three-point shot, and that the team as a whole will benefit in increased catch-and-shoot prowess from their point guard.
“You're talking about a guy that is amongst the best players, if not the best player, in the league,” Presti noted. “It would be easy for him to rely on what he's done, but he's not going to do that.”
While Westbrook will focus inward – on all aspects of his game and in particular the three-point shooting – the Thunder’s leader will also be the man on the front lines of trying to solve the team’s consistency issue from last season. Westbrook’s relentless spirit and drive towards winning is the factor that will have the greatest impact on how the team as a whole returns next season.
Paul George, Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton are all returning, and the Thunder is bringing in Dennis Schröder, Nerlens Noel, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot and Abdel Nader. With the roster pretty much set, Westbrook will be able to set his sights on getting the team completely on the same page heading into training camp.
As the point guard and floor general, Westbrook has responsibility draped on his shoulders and a chance to lead the organization to glory as well. In the 10 seasons he has patrolled Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder has made the postseason 8 times, and finished 4th or better in the West six times. That’s why the players around him, the ones he’s been alongside for years and years, are confident in Westbrook’s ability to lead the Thunder to its greatest heights yet.
“Ever since he's been with the Thunder organization we've been having success,” Adams said of Westbrook. “He just has very high standards, and you have to meet them. That's what ultimately makes you successful as a team.”
“I love playing with (Westbrook), and he's an all-time great to me,” said retiring forward Nick Collison, who played with Westbrook longer than anyone. “I think he's been huge for the city, this organization and all the guys.”