When an F-15 jet shatters the sound barrier a deafening sonic boom is emitted. Overland sonic booms are barred in the United States, but with one exception. Russell Westbrook's whizzing up and down the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor is making an inconspicuous noise in Loud City these days.
Yes, the Thunder were on a two-game losing streak before Christmas Day, but it was the most thrilling two-game losing streak in the league this season thanks to Westbrook.
The aerodynamic point guard skies above the paint as his runway, but lands using the rim as his air traffic control tower. Josh Smith’s final highlight as a Piston featured him watching helplessly as Westbrook threw down a thunderous jam that likely shattered windows and glass in the immediate vicinity.
However, the new altitude Westbrook is flying at has nothing to do with him flying in like an F-15 to drop spherical payloads through the rim.
If there was a pair who epitomized Top Gun’s Maverick and Goose dynamic, it would be Westbrook and Durant.
Scott Brooks’ offense relies on the creativity of his two high usage ballhandlers Westbrook and Kevin Durant to get the offensive gears grinding.
The paucity of off-ball action is why the Thunder regularly rank last in assists and secondary assists.
The lack of action away from the ball when the Golden State Warriors first option didn’t create a scoring opportunity attributed to Mark Jackson’s departure.
Last season, the Warriors passed the ball fewer times than any team in the entire league. The Thunder were fifth from the bottom. The improved motion and ball movement has resulted in a team that’s 12th in passes and the philosophical shift has been beneficial.
This season, the Warriors rank in the top three for assists, secondary assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes.
Likewise, through the first six seasons of his career, Westbrook was the NBA’s Hancock, drunkenly barreling through traffic with a combination of superhero athleticism and reckless disregard for the safety of opponents or the ball.
But with Durant under constant repairs, Westbrook’s Airlines has been transporting the Thunder’s cargo, consisting of championship expectations across the country on its back.
The only thing Westbrook is drunk with now is power. Durant’s absence has resulted in Westbrook becoming the league’s most autocratic balhandler in the league.
Westbrook’s current usage rate of 39.6 would obliterate Kobe Bryant’s single-season record.
In Durant’s absence, Westbrook has finally exploded into a starring role by expending more energy than any star in the league.
He leads the league in scoring, while also dishing out 7.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. Unlike Bryant, however, Westbrook’s activity is more debatable than the Grey Mamba’s. For one, Westbrook actually has a defensive pulse.
The Mach 5 pace at which Westbrook is reaching his career numbers is what makes this season so jawdropping. According to ESPN's Stats & Info department, Westbrook, who averages 31.7 minutes a game would be the Usain Bolt of the illustrious and extensive list of players to average 25 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds for an entire season. Of the 25-5-5 group, Westbrook is the only one to step n the court for fewer than 36.6 minutes per game.
Yet, in the last seven days, the Thunder have lost three out of four with losses to Golden State, New Orleans and Portland, including a win over Los Angeles by a point differential of six at the end of regulation. It’s also emblematic of how critically important Durant is to Oklahoma City’s flight pattern, and vice versa.
2014 has been a turbulent start to the season for Oklahoma City as a whole. Individually, Westbrook's current losing streak efficiency numbers should be recorded on a blackbox instead of a box score.
Over that span, the ugly side of Westbrook emerged as he shot an average of 29 shots and connected on 40 percent.
The flipside, that doesn’t count towards his shooting percentage were his 11 free throw attempts.
In the aftermath of a 99-101 loss to New Orleans win which he took the Thunder’s final six shots without passing, Westbrook lashed out at his detractors’ 20/20 hindsight.
"It's one game, man. I'm not going to keep answering questions about me not passing when we lose," Westbrook barked. "When we won eight in a row, nobody said nothing about me not passing. So I don't want to hear it now."
Tuesday night’s duel with Damian Lillard was the most glaring example this season of Westbrook overindulging, resulting in the Thunder offense choking on its own star’s excesses.
Up 10 with 1:39 to go, Westbrook took a contested jumper on one possession, then went over the screen on the other end and was whistled for a foul on Lillard after swiping at the Blazers point guard from behind. A technical foul for arguing an obvious call tacked on an extra point.
Despite, the collapse, Oklahoma City still led by four with possession and 21.5 minutes left in regulation when Westbrook ignored Andre Roberson, dribbled into a triple team near the left corner. By the time Westbrook had given the ball up to Roberson, there was only six seconds on the shot clock and the end result was a rushed 19-footer by Serge Ibaka.
In all fairness, it took a superhuman performance from Lillard and a game-tying three at closing time that resembled his playoff series-ending dagger trey over Houston, for this game to reach extra time.
This isn’t a critique of only Westbrook. The same criticism was placed on Reggie Jackson when he assumed the starting position in lieu of Westbrook last month when Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins froze him out against the Nets.
They’re products of a high-risk, high-reward offensive psychology that turns the ball over at a dizzying rate.
However, Westbrook’s ball domination is bordering on addiction as his statistical power surge has also resulted in a decrease in efficiency that’s equivalent to his astronomical numbers.
On Christmas Day, Westbrook and his minions were contrasted by the most egalitarian contender in the entire league.
When Durant does suit up again, he’ll come bearing scoring gifts for a team sitting at ninth in the West, but Westbrook continued pulling the Thunder sleigh on Christmas Day.
Westbrook's 34 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and five steals on 14 of 28 shooting against the Spurs shifted the fluctuated narrative 180 degrees.
In games Durant has played with Westbrook this season, the ball as just been just as stuck in Westbrook’s hands, with the only difference being the league MVP’s remarkable efficiency on a smaller volume of attempts.
Without Westbrook and Durant, the Thunder are in complete discord offensively. In games when Oklahoma City has had both in the lineup, the Thunder are pushing the ball at a more frenetic pace and average 13 additional points per game
There are a cacophony of opinions on both sides of the Westbrook debate ranging from ride or die Westbrooklynites approving of his hawkish attack tendencies to those who believe he should be more prudent on offensive possessons.
Hoops Santa’s pros and con lists can’t decide whether Westbrook's either having An MVP season or on a Highway To The Danger Zone. June is the time of year when we’ll determine whether his game is naughty or nice.