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Dean's Blog: Westbrook The First Reason For Thunder's Success

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Russell Westbrook's development has been key to the Thunder's success this season, and will go as far as he allows (AP Photo). Russell Westbrook's development has been key to the Thunder's success this season, and will go as far as he allows (AP Photo).
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Russell Westbrook is a different breed of cat. The heretofore shoot-first guard has amended his hit-and-miss game. He's playing well enough that it's fair to say he's earning that five-year $80 million dollar contract he signed. He lives in rarified air. Russell is one of only five players in NBA history to record 4,000 points, 1,500 assists and 1,000 rebounds in his first three seasons.

He's certainly not a warm-and-fuzzy type with the media—not that any Thunder players fit that description. None rude. None giddy upon seeing pen and pad. Regardless of how Westbrook is with the media, he deserved most of the heat he's received the past couple of years.

But now it's only right that people appreciate how much this wizard from Westwood has improved. And that the fortunes of this team ride squarely on his shoulders as much as they do Kevin Durant's. Westbrook has the ball in his hands first on most possessions. Without good decisions, KD would not have enough opportunities to succeed.

I've been objective in analyzing both strengths and weaknesses of Westbrook--and he's one of those players who has had plenty of both. His extraordinary athleticism has led respected NBA analysts to call him "the most athletic point guard in the history of the NBA."

I've found in scrutinizing Westbrook's play, there's been a good deal of criticism from both homers and team personnel. That's okay. Because I know I'm right. I know I've been fair. And frankly, I've reached an age—and have caught more than my share of vitriolic grief from critics—that I tune out the haters.

Anyone not critical of Westbrook's careless and recklessness with the basketball until this season doesn't want to admit the truth , doesn't know basketball, or is wearing Thunder teal undies and glasses, leaving them blind to reality. He was a runaway record-setter in turnovers until this season.

But now, Westbrook seems to have matured. Seems to have learned to control his anger. Has learned to use his fury in a positive way. After getting a technical Wednesday night in the thrilling comeback win over the Suns, instead of being out of control and committing more turnovers and fouls, he immediately stole the ball from Steve Nash and dunked at the other end.

He followed that up by hitting three 3-pointers and using his incredible bursts of speed to separate from defenders and make play after play.

Westbrook is learning to look for Kevin Durant more in crunch time. I think two things have led to this. The unfounded and non-stop national criticism Westbrook receives for shooting too much; and listening to OKC assistant coach Mo Cheeks.

Cheeks—a good enough point guard in Philly to be a candidate again for the NBA Hall of Fame—has a reservoir of knowledge of the game. Enough veteran experience to merit a maturing Westbrook to listen and learn. I believe Cheeks has finally broken through with the young gun. His improvement is remarkable.

Add the significant improvement of Durant, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, and yes—Perk, and you have a team running away in the Western Conference and sitting at 31-8.

If Westbrook continues to improve and play under control, the Thunder will make a run at an NBA Championship. I can't believe I just said that. But it's the truth.

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