After watching the fifth straight game where Russell Westbrook tried to beat an entire team with another 4th quarter drunk-dial (that’s what his shooting lines look like strung together: 2-11-0-5-18-0) – I was pretty much over it. The Westbrook experience was leaning more toward “frustrating” than “fun”, and I couldn’t even think of what to compare it to. What other things are this good and this terrible simultaneously? What’s the parallel here? I was kind of at a loss for words.
Then my buddy sent me a text that summed it up pretty nicely:
“Russ is like that shredder guitar player at Guitar Center. He wants to show off his skills, which he has sooooo much of. But, it’s like – dude, you’re badass, but can you turn your amp down your music fucking sucks'”
And, that is so true. More than any player other in the league, Russ suffers from “Lead Guitar Syndrome”. He’s the guy during the concert who rips off an elaborate, intricate, and lengthy solo that is technically impressive, but also makes the song unlistenable, because now it’s 15-goddamn-minutes long. It’s no wonder Russ has been taking actual guitar lessons.
Like, for real, how is this:
Any different than this:
I might even take it one-step further, and say that even in virtuoso rock bands, usually everyone gets a turn. Obviously, the guitar player gets to solo first – they’re the main attraction after all – but after that, the drummer gets a turn, then the keyboard player, even the bassist everyone hates. Russ is like some alternate-universe version of Slash where he just kept shredding until the arena was empty and Guns N’ Roses lost all their fans (Slash N’ Don’t Kick). Bottom line: he needs to stop acting like everyone else in the OKC family band has the talent of a tambourine player incapable of doing anything but keeping rhythm as he guitargasms into the abyss.
At this point, Westbrook reminds me of a lot of another player who was almost equally as divisive: Allen Iverson. People around the NBA have made this comparison, and I think it’s apt. Like Iverson, Westbrook is a visually stunning player who is also difficult, does not work well within a team structure, and is just not that smart when it comes to understanding how to play basketball. (And, if the Reebok Answer fits, you might have to wear Reeboks.)
To me, that comparison might be the most damning Westbrook critique of all. Because, all you have to do is look at what happened at the end of Iverson’s career to understand how minuscule the value of his intangibles were. As soon as Iverson’s physical gifts started to slip, he was out of the league in the blink of an eye. And, that is something that should inform all of us on how unhelpful his approach to the game actually was when it came to winning.
The guys who understand the value of team basketball get to stay around forever – way past their primes: Duncan, Nowitzki, Kidd, Pierce. The ones that don’t – they’re gone once their game starts to go: Iverson, Kobe (Dwight and Rondo in years to come). Iverson went from averaging 26 points-per-game to basically disappearing from the league in less than two seasons. I predict something similar for Westbrook.
Russ needs to figure it out quick or he will never come close to winning a championship. I mean, he already drove away his best shot at one with all of his ill-advised drives. (At this point, there’s no doubt that Kevin Durant left almost solely because he was like, “If I have to watch this guy shoot one more fucking airball…”.) Now, it’s up to him to see if he can learn to put his team above his ego and his own pride. My money is on that realization failing to take place. And Westbrook’s teams staying in 5th, 6th, or 7th place because of it.
During this series, Westbrook asked all of us emphatically – “Do you even shred, bro???” I know my answer. It’s an equally emphatic – “No.”