Russell Westbrook would zoom down the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For eight seasons, Westbrook was Kevin Durant’s worthy sidekick, and at times whether he was just as good as Durant was debatable. After Durant left for the Golden State Warriors in 2016, Westbrook evolved into a better version of what he already was: an athletic guard who would do anything to win.
On Thursday, Westbrook will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena for the first time since being traded to the Houston Rockets over the offseason. The Thunder will play the Rockets at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Westbrook is the last remnant of a past era for the Thunder, an era that was filled with the utmost potential and yet no championships to show for its greatness. Though OKC did not reach the NBA’s pinnacle, Westbrook serves as a reminder for how the Thunder remained a playoff team after Durant left.
As one of the league’s best guards, Westbrook should be cheered and celebrated Thursday. He was the Thunder’s lightning rod, regularly giving a jolt of energy for a team that was not nearly as good without Durant, who is arguably the best scorer of this generation.
Westbrook had some of his best seasons while being the commander of the Thunder’s offense. He’s the only other player in league history besides Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for a season.
And to add onto that, Westbrook accomplished the feat three straight seasons from 2016-2019. He won the league’s MVP award in 2017 and was the NBA’s leading scorer that season.
In two of the three seasons he averaged a triple-double, Westbrook was No. 1 in the NBA in assists per game. From the 2015-16 season to the 2018-19 season, Westbrook averaged at least 10 assists.
Few other guards in recent years have been able to be the playmaker that he’s been over the past few years.
Assist points created, a stat that began being recorded in 2013-14, tallies the points a player or team creates through their assists, according to NBA.com. Westbrook has led the league in assist points created twice over the past six seasons. Both of the two seasons coincided with the ones where he led the league in assists per game.
Westbrook could never go deep into the playoffs as being the Thunder’s best player for at least two of his last three seasons with the team. For his last two seasons in OKC, Westbrook teamed up with Paul George, who had the better season in 2018-19.
The Thunder didn’t make it past the first round in each of the past three seasons. But Westbrook was unrelenting in leading the Thunder, posting a usage percentage of 47% in the 2017 postseason and one of 39% in 2018.
Westbrook’s usage percentage of 31.5% in the 2019 playoffs is evidence of how George had emerged as the Thunder’s best player that season. George averaged 28.6 points per game in the Thunder’s first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last season.
The Thunder’s continued success with Westbrook just shows why he’ll go down as one of the franchise’s best guards ever.
When it was time for him to take over, he would. If he had to get his teammates involved, he’d do that as well. According to Basketball Reference, he’s the Thunder’s all-time leader in points (18,859), even going back to when the Thunder were the Seattle SuperSonics. He’s second behind Gary Payton in assists (6,897).
Westbrook’s jersey deserves to hang in the rafters, for while his borderline frenetic play could sometimes hinder his performance, he was the reason the Thunder kept booming for a bit longer.