Sam Amick spoke with Thunder coach Billy Donovan about Westbrook’s leadership: “Any other year, Donovan would likely get serious consideration for the
NBA’s Coach of the Year award. But even though the honor will likely go elsewhere, whether it’s to the Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni or the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra or former Thunder coach and Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks or someone else, the part that shouldn’t be forgotten is how Donovan helped the Thunder pivot from the devastating loss of a former MVP to a season that they see as uniquely special. “I don’t think people have a true understanding of how challenging (losing a player like Durant) can potentially be,” Donovan remembered. “When you take a team that’s as young as we are (third-youngest in franchise history), and we have a leader like Russell who can show these guys what goes into winning, I just think what he has done is remarkable.”
Rob Mahoney of SI came up with some made-up awards: “When faced with an opening, Westbrook’s mantra for the season rings true: Why not? Why not drive headlong into the lane, brushing off defenders along the way and forcing rotation? Why not average almost four shots per 36 minutes more than any other player in the league? Why not pull up when defenders are constantly on their heels for fear of your speed? Why not go and go and go when no one in the league has the stamina to consistently guard you?”
Berry Tramel spoke with Doug Collins about Westbrook: “Collins coached Michael Jordan with two franchises, the Bulls and the Wizards. The young Jordan and the old Jordan. So Collins has a good frame of reference for Westbrook’s mental tenacity. “I know there’s nights, as much energy as he’s got, he’s got to show up and maybe feel like he doesn’t have it,” Collins said. “But he finds a way to do it. That’s what I said about Michael Jordan when I coached Michael. I saw games where I said, ‘Where’s the energy going to come from? The thought of performing and doing it, he always found a way.”
Erik Horne looks at Victor Oladipo’s underrated first season in Oklahoma City: “In the Thunder’s win Wednesday, OKC led 24-23 when Westbrook subbed out for Oladipo at 2:40. By the time he came back into the game for Oladipo at 8:45 in the second quarter, the Thunder led 41-34. Oladipo had scored nine of the Thunder’s 17 points and added two assists. “If I get the opportunity to, I’m gonna do to best I can to go out there and run the group,” Oladipo said Wednesday night. “Especially with that second group I’ve gotta really assert myself and be a little more aggressive. “I can create for myself, I can create for others if given the opportunity to. Whatever I do I just try to do the best I can.”
Zach Lowe is not a fan of Semaj Christon being used off the ball: “But someone has to bring the ball up while Westbrook rests. I’m not convinced it has to be Christon, or even Norris Cole, but let’s posit that because those guys carry the same old-fashioned positional designation as Westbrook that it must be one of them. Fine. But by the basketball gods, stop playing Christon in an off-ball role once Westbrook returns to the game! Play Alex Abrines, Doug McDermott, Jerami Grant — literally any wing option but Christon. Billy Donovan will occasionally run out Christon next to Westbrook in crunch time. Even if Donovan wants to finish with small, defense-first lineups that can protect leads, he has better choices.
Chris Ballard of SI spoke with Monty Williams about life after tragically losing his wife to a car accident in Oklahoma City: “The day of the memorial happened also to be the NBA trade deadline. So Sam Presti, the Thunder general manager, told the rest of the league that he had his own deadline, at 1 p.m., an hour before the service. He ended up dealing two players that day, D.J. Augustin and Steve Novak. Both still showed up with their wives at Crossings Community Church, along with nearly a thousand others. Ingrid’s life—their life—was there in the pews. Family and friends, of course, but also women from the ministry where she volunteered. Local police. A contingent from the Spurs, including Popovich, Duncan and David West, who flew in on the team plane even though they played later that night in L.A. Their opponents, the Clippers, were also represented, led by Rivers, his son Austin and Chris Paul. And on it went: Jeff Van Gundy and Brett Brown and P.J. Carlesimo and Kevin Durant, along with the whole Thunder organization. Members of the Pelicans—the team that fired Monty as coach less than a year earlier—folded themselves into a row. “Tallest funeral I’ve ever seen,” says pastor Bil Gebhardt.”
Duncan Smith of 16WinsARing on why Westbrook is his MVP candidate: “While Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game, he did so in an era where starters played almost every minute of much higher paced games. Robertson played 44.3 minutes per game in 1961–62, and his Cincinnati Royals (a predecessor of the Sacramento Kings) played a staggering 124.9 possessions per game. In comparison, the Brooklyn Nets lead the NBA in pace this year at just 103.5 possessions per game. This means that Russell Westbrook’s averages of 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game are all the more spectacular. He’s done this in just 34.7 minutes per game, and the Thunder play at a pace of about 98 possessions per game. If we extrapolate his production at the same minutes and pace that Robertson played at, Russell Westbrook would average a spectacular 51.4 points, 17.4 rebounds and 16.9 assists per game.”