In a perfect world the NBA playoff picture would take the form of Nicki Minaj's highly-promoted physique, with the biggest and best of everything rolled into a short package.
If that was the case and NBA life was truly a movie, then today's narrative would surely be different. The 2015 playoff draw would have been a favorable one for Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite losing their MVP and other key starters throughout the season, Westbrook's Herculean efforts carried the Thunder night in and night out as they tried to dig themselves out of a deep Western Conference hole and snatch a playoff berth. The NBA masses and "Westbrook for MVP" paraders were rooting for OKC, because no sane basketball fan wanted to see Westbrook's historically prolific play come to an end.
He surely had it in him to will OKC to a couple of exciting playoff wins and with his untamed determination and free hardwood reign, it’s scary envisioning what kind of statistical masterpieces he would have constructed in May. Unfortunately -- as we have learned time and time again -- the NBA isn't college and one-man wrecking crews make pretty MVP's but ugly World Champions.
There are a few dynamic players in the past that could probably post the stats Westbrook has posted this season if given the opportunity. Deadly as his play’s been, the only reason Westbrook has the ball in his hands enough to post all of those stats is because his team lacks talent and is average. Because he's so much more talented than anyone else on his squad, he is almost forced to dare to be omnipotent for his team to be competitive.
The freedom he is allowed is only enjoyed by a rare breed of player in a rare situation. A.I. got to go H.A.M. and it resulted in no chips and one NBA Finals appearance.
Remember T-MAC at his best ?
The trials and tribulations of No. 1 gunner Pistol Pete?
How about Kevin Love on Minnesota? These dudes were forced to saddle up the wagon because the surrounding parts were suspect. They will never get their due as champs though.
People love heroics because it gives them a clear-cut side to identify with and root for. Westbrook's season will carry him for the rest of his career. He personally accomplished the equivalent of a triple double this season. He moved out of Durant's shadow and convinced a ton of folks that he is a "better" all around player than KD, which is a far cry from a few seasons ago when folks suggested Westbrook doesn't know his inferior place.
This season he won his first scoring title averaging 28.1 points per game. He went from Batman's Robin to everybody's "must see" dude and an MVP candidate. It's only the fifth time since 1976 a scoring champion misses the playoffs, and the first time since McGrady in the 2004 season.
Russ did everything he could to avoid that bittersweet accolade. He registered triple-doubles six times in an eight-game span from late February to early March in what was inarguably one of the greatest single-player streaks of dominance in recent NBA history (Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double for the season in 1961-62).
Westbrook knows that his personal accomplishments don’t mean much in the larger scheme of things.
"S---," Westbrook said when asked what the scoring title means to him . "It doesn't mean nothing. Good job. Hooray. I'm at home. Watching other teams play. Doesn't mean nothing."
The former UCLA Bruins guard did, however, captivate the promiscuous and materialistic hearts of NBA Nation, despite OKC going just 4-4 during that binge. Overall, they went just 16-12 after Durant's season ended on Feb.19. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan and average 35 while winning the shiny ball. You better have a Pippen who does all the dirty work and could average 25 points but chooses to average 16 a game.
On the 82nd and final game of the regular season -- with everything riding on mathematics -- Westbrook scored a career-high 23 points in the first quarter. Westbrook amassed 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a 138-113 thrashing of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his efforts were hollow because the New Orleans Pelicans and killer kid Anthony Davis was simultaneously disposing of the San Antonio Spurs to secure ownership of the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
After all of the highlights and dramatics, OKC is just the ninth best team in the conference. That's the bottom line.
The fact that KD isn't there doesn't matter. OKC became Westbrook's team as soon as KD went down. That’s what Russ wanted all along. He got the keys to the castle and OKC's Scott Brooks said, "Let me see what you can do."
He proved that he can be A-1 sauce rather than a side dish, making that separation as an elite NBA soldier. Fans and coaches have lauded his leadership, determination, skill and grit. Russ finally got his day in the sun.
However, if you put some ballers back on that squad, naturally all of his stats decrease, but he probably wins more. I'm conflicted with how much props I want to give him because there are guys throughout league history who COULD have averaged 25-30 per game if they got to take 40 shots.
Ask Dominique Wilkins how much you are remembered if you spend your career pleasing the eyes with dominant aerial obscenities rather than satisfying the record books and hardware accumulation needed to truly be immortalized.
Just keep the perspective. Most winning teams don't have one guy going buck wild all game. So really RW has an advantage statistically over anybody who has other all-star caliber players to share the rock with. It's not much different than Melo averaging big numbers on a wack Knicks squad. That's more out of necessity and habit than anything else.
For now I enjoy the show like watching Earl "The Pearl" Monroe before he got with Walt Clyde Frazier and Willis Reed.
Giving Westbrook the league MVP is debatable. Couldn't other players post similar stats if they were allowed to suffocate the ball all day due to lack of offensive options? Your numbers still have to produce winning basketball and Westbrook barely did that.
As I've said a million times, the true test of Westbrook's championship mettle will come when Durant returns in the final year of his contract in 2016. How much are both players willing to sacrifice in order to maximize their incomparable talents?
The fact of the matter is five of the past six scoring titles have come from a Thunder player ( Kevin Durant has won four of the past five), and this is the first time since the 1952 and 1953 seasons (Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston with the Philadelphia Warriors) that players on the same team have won back-to back scoring titles. It looks like Durant might be out of here after this season. It would be insane if OKC never gets a c’hip because Westbrook and Durant couldn’t get it together.
Westbrook will fade into oblivion as the playoffs begin. The postseason story is the emergence of Anthony Davis and New Orleans. Sometimes you can be caught looking left when everything is right. To the dismay of many, we will have to wait until next season to see Westbrook attack the rim with animalistic aggression and post 50-point games in a scintillating skills test of 5-on-1. The consolation prize, however, is just as dope. Davis was an early MVP favorite and he can dominate a game on both ends of the ball. If Westbrook is a "special" player then Davis is a "game-altering player" -- the type of guy you build a franchise around.
He has a chance to get his "Westbrook regular season moment" in the playoffs and make an emphatic mark against Golden State’s Splash Brothers and the best team in the NBA.
Being a postseason regular is the only way your accomplishments get kept in its proper perspective. It's the only way you get to carry names like "The Dream" and "Black Mamba" and "Magic” and "Grand Finale." And get referred to as a "closer." For now, Russell Westbrook is still just an opening act .