Regardless of how the season ended, let me be the first to say it:
Thank you, Russell Westbrook.
I get it — this is going to be me pumping a lot of sunshine in the wake of another frustrating loss, but you can feel disappointment and appreciation at the same time. While we all would have loved to see this Thunder team re-live days past, a deep playoff run was never in the picture for this iteration of the boys in blue. In the shadow of last season’s march to the cusp of the NBA Finals, a first round exit is certainly sour grapes. Chalking it up as nothing more would be an oversight.
Despite the Thunder’s five-game first round exit, there is a lot to be proud of if you’re a Thunder fan. The organization was seemingly burned to the ground with Kevin Durant’s defection on July 4, but what ensued was a real life representation of turning lemons into lemonade. Westbrook scorched the earth for 42 triple-doubles, led his team to 47 wins and a playoff berth, and left it all on the court in an electric, albeit short, first round series. In a season full of story lines, none shined brighter than Oklahoma City’s superstar point guard. At times it felt like he kept his city relevant with Herculean effort after Herculean effort.
We knew all along this season would end with someone else (most likely KD) hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, so in your disappointment I ask that you keep that in perspective. Yes, the bench was terrible. Yes, Westbrook needs a lot of help. No, I don’t know what moves must be made in order to fix it. None of this is meant to detract from the many questions immediately facing Sam Presti and the organization, but for one moment I’d just like to appreciate what we just witnessed.
- Single-season triple-double average (First since 1962)
- 42 triple-doubles (New NBA record)
- Scoring title (31.6 PPG)
- Tied career-high assists per game (10.4)
- Career-high rebounds per game (10.7)
- 1st in NBA scoring, third in assists, 11th in rebounds, 15th in steals
- Three 50-point triple-doubles (+1 more in the playoffs)
- Career-high scoring effort of 58 points
- 41 points in the All-Star Game
- 41.7% usage rate
- Two Player-of-the-Month awards
- Four Player-of-the-Week awards
- Lord knows how much I’m actually forgetting
But in the end — what matters most, at least to Thunder fans, is that he did it all in Oklahoma City. He didn’t have to, but he did. No one forced him to take on this incredible load alone, but he accepted it. Most of the time it appeared like he was doing alone (which wasn’t always fair to say), but it didn’t stop him. Until the clock hit 0:00 in Game 5, he was bringing it at 110%. He did for 86 games.
So, yeah. No clue what comes next for the Thunder, but there’s time here to recognize Russell Westbrook and what he did in 2016-17. I hope he never has to do it again, but for now I just say thanks.