Controlled Aggression: Westbrook Might Have Turned A Corner For OKC

Tuesday, March 5th 2013, 12:23 am
By: News 9

Russell Westbrook's sideline meltdown against the Memphis Grizzlies caused major ripples nationally that things weren't all fine and dandy in Thunderland.

Let's revisit the incident momentarily.

On Jan. 31, Westbrook got into a disagreement with Thabo Sefolosha that escalated quickly and ended with Thunder assistant Mo Cheeks trying to settle down the team's polarizing point guard prior to Westbrook slamming his towel and flipping over equipment as he stormed off to the locker room. And to make it all the more puzzling, OKC was leading by 25 in the middle of the third quarter of an eventual 106-89 thumping of Memphis.

Not exactly a fairy-tale vibe to wrap up an otherwise impressive victory.

Every analyst had an opinion in the days following the blowup but there was a central theme that presented itself – is Westbrook too emotionally volatile for the Thunder to win a championship?

That has long been a national storyline with Russell but this was just the most recent in a long line of incidents. But eventually the question became, how would he respond?

Quite well, as it turns out.

In 14 games since his temper tantrum, Westbrook is averaging 26 points, 6.5 assists and four rebounds per contest. What is perhaps more encouraging, though, has been his efficiency. In this stretch, Russ is shooting 51.9 percent from the floor and 45 percent from 3-point range.

In fact, February marked the first time he has shot above 50 percent for an entire month in his NBA career. He also shot 83.7 percent from the foul line, his best month of the season, and averaged 25.5 points.

But so far in March his numbers are even better.

In Friday's close loss at Denver, Westbrook was 12-for-23 shooting and 2-of-4 from 3, finishing with 38 points and also added six rebounds and five dimes.

He answered that performance with 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting with 10 assists and six boards against the Clippers on Sunday.

But the stats don't tell the whole story.

Westbrook has been the Thunder's best player in both games this month. He's been a vocal leader and has made the plays to keep OKC in games.

And perhaps the most telling of all: the Thunder went to No. 0 instead of KD in crunch time against the Clippers.

Westbrook had been outstanding all game but once LA took its first lead of the game – in a very deflating sequence for OKC – on a Jamal Crawford 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining, Russell took the inbounds pass and blasted through the defense to reclaim the lead just six seconds later.

It looked effortless. It looked fearless. Honestly, it was kind of ‘the honey badger' in a nutshell; he just didn't care.

On the ensuing possession he drew in the defense and fed Serge Ibaka for an and-one that put OKC back up by three. And then he really put the icing on the cake with a stone-cold 16-foot jumper from the corner with 26 seconds remaining to put OKC up by four.

After connecting on the final shot he left his hand in the cookie jar, not moving whatsoever to let the dagger twist in the Staples Center crowd.

Because, again, he just doesn't care.

One of the things he's picked on the most for is his recklessness, but when that loose-cannon style is contained, it can be his greatest asset. The only person that can stop Westbrook is oftentimes Westbrook himself.

But it has been ‘good Russell' that has shown up lately and that could become more normal as he continues his maturation.

People sometimes lose track of the fact that he's 24 years old. He has a lot of room to grow, both as a player and a person. He's overly emotional but, honestly, his outburst against Memphis could symbolize a move in the right direction.

He didn't allow his outburst to take place in a manner in which it could impact the score. He asked to be taken out and he even headed to the locker room to cool off — albeit a little too demonstratively — before returning and playing well.

It's becoming less common to see his anger or frustrations transform into on-court stretches of forced bad plays, turnovers and ill-advised shots. The chaos is becoming more controlled and the Thunder will be better for it.

Clearly he's a little different but different doesn't mean bad. And his type of ‘different' translates to him being one of the hardest players to defend in the NBA.

He feasts on anger and flashes that signature snarl. He blocks mascot's shots and rips towels back from overzealous fans.

He's a player you love when he's on your side and a player you detest if he's not.

And more and more he's becoming consistent. There's a method developing behind the madness and that's bad news for the rest of the Western Conference.