NEW YORK — After recording his third triple-double in a row, his eighth of the season and 45th of his career, the superstar lightheartedly lectured a reporter in the locker room. The reporter had erred when commenting on the superstar’s hat, first suggesting that he was copying a younger teammate and then that he was copying a veteran star on the opposing team.
“When has Russell Westbrook ever copied from anybody?” the superstar said. “I’m not a follower and I don’t copy. Write that shit.”
Westbrook was not as angry as his choice of words might suggest, but he wasn’t exactly joking, either — the man is serious about both his fashion and about his individuality. And when it comes to what he’s doing on the court this season, he is only following one person: Oscar Robertson.
Through 19 games, Westbrook is averaging 30.9 points (second in the league), 11.3 assists (second in the league) and 10.3 rebounds (easily first among players shorter than 6-foot-7), and he was one assist shy of registering a triple-double before halftime in the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s 112-103 victory against the New York Knicks on Monday. He got there in less than 20 minutes, and he finished with 27 points, 14 assists and 18 rebounds.
Asked if his stupefying statistics are sustainable, he dismissed the question: “winning is sustainable.” Surely, though, he has noticed the attention that this streak is generating. Surely, he understands the historical significance of it. Right?
“I don’t really care, honestly, man,” Westbrook said. “I just like to win and compete at a high level. I play the same way every night. I’ve been playing the same way since I’ve been in the league.”
Westbrook said the Thunder’s three-game winning streak is what’s important to him, and every night he goes home and watches film to find ways to be a better player and leader for his team, like always. Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter, however, did draw a distinction between the Westbrook of years past and the one who is now the sole face of his franchise.
“He had an edge last year, but this year he’s just like an animal,” Kanter said. “He just, like, wants to go out there and beat people up. It’s different, man. Whenever you see his face, it’s just like, man, I want to go out there and just beat people up with him. He pumps you up, too. That’s the special thing about him.”
Everyone around the Thunder wants it to be known that this isn’t merely about numbers. Center Steven Adams said it means more to him that Westbrook goes the extra mile for his teammates, getting to know them and trying to help them be the best players they can be.
“He’s just a good bloke. He’s good at just, like, the leadership of it, right. He’ll do what he’s gonna do. He’s a crazy dude. He jumps really high. I was trying to get a rebound, like I jumped as high as I could, tried to get it with one hand I just see him fly over and just catch it right here with two hands. Whatever, you grab it, mate. You got it, mate. But he’s good like that, mate, just making sure that we’re all together and we’re on the same page.”
Forward Nick Collison is the only Oklahoma City player who has been around since Westbrook’s rookie season. He said he’s not surprised by much of anything Westbrook does, but never thought it would even be possible for a player to average a triple-double again.
Having watched Westbrook learn how to play point guard in the pros, Collison said the fun part of all this is seeing him running the team and being in total control of the game. And yes, the pure production is astounding, too.
“You want to always appreciate it and not take it for granted,” Collison said. “It is pretty special. And it would be different if he was out hunting these statistics. Guys can do that. There’s a lot of guys that do that. But he’s really not. He’s really just playing the game. And that’s what’s best about it.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan praised Westbrook for chasing loose balls and fighting for rebounds at Madison Square Garden — he thinks that sort of spirit sends a message to the team. He noted that Westbrook gave Adams confidence in the third quarter by passing him the ball in the post, showing that he believes in him. Careful not to dismiss the absurd averages, Donovan called them “historic” and “amazing.” He just wanted to be clear that they are in pursuit of winning.
“He’s probably the most unique player in the NBA,” Donovan said. “You’ve got obviously great scorers, great assist guys, great rebounders. There’s a lot of great players in this league. But he kind of touches it all in every facet of the game. And I just was saying, he gets those numbers but there’s so much more to him than that to me as a coach. Because he’s got a group of guys in there that, some of them are new, some of them are younger, and he’s trying to lead, and he’s out there trying to show these guys how to compete and he’s out there talking and communicating with them.”
Oklahoma City is 11-8 on the season and 6-2 when Westbrook has had a triple-double. To Thunder swingman Andre Roberson, seeing the silly stat sheets is now “kind of normal.” As Westbrook drives the organization forward, Roberson is more than happy to be along for the ride. He’s just running out of ways to contextualize what’s happening.
“You can use any word to describe that man,” Roberson said. “He’s a freak of nature. Let’s put it that way.”