By Zach Jacovini
Russell Westbrook is a nine-time all star, a two-time scoring champ, a former MVP and a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team — placing him on a list along with 74 of the best players to ever step on an NBA court. Westbrook is also one of two players ever to average a triple-double across the duration of an entire NBA season.
Westbrook is one of the greatest statistical athletes of all time. So, why then has he been the scapegoat for one of the most disappointing NBA teams in years? He has been subjected to massive amounts of fan hate to the point where Westbrook himself has claimed to the media that he no longer allows his significant other and children to attend his games due to fans “shaming” his last name by chanting “WESTBRICK.”
Simply put, this is the first time in Westbrook’s career that he has been under this level of scrutiny, and playing under the bright lights of LA, Westbrook is being exposed as the player he always has been — an enigma.
To understand how things went so horribly wrong for Westbrook this season, we first have to flashback to his 2016-2017 MVP season, where he had one of the greatest statistical seasons in any sport, and simultaneously captured the heart of an entire city. The previous season, Westbrook and former teammate Kevin Durant had an infamous 3-1 lead in the Conference Finals against the team with the best NBA regular-season record of all time, the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.
It seemed in all likelihood that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Westbrook were going to move on to the NBA Finals, where they would have a chance to capture the city’s first ever NBA championship.
That summer, Kevin Durant, a man who during his 2013-2014 MVP season award speech referred to Westbrook as his “brother,” left Westbrook behind for the Warriors in free agency in one of the most scrutinized free agency signings in the history of sports — joining the very team that had beat him in the playoffs the previous season.
This left Westbrook as the Thunder's lone superstar, and many expected the Thunder to fall apart in the 2016-2017 season. Expectations were low, and this allowed Westbrook to thrive, as he put up an incredible 31.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds in a season. This season also marked the start of a concerning trend for Westbrook, one that his biggest skeptics continue to point at when critiquing his game.
Despite putting up statistics that no one in the history of basketball has ever put up, Westbrook’s shooting percentage and efficiency is extremely poor, and this only gets magnified in bigger moments, such as the playoffs. During Westbrook’s three playoff appearances for the Thunder without Kevin Durant, he shot below 40% from the field.
Eventually, it was evident that Westbrook had accomplished all he could with the roster that the Oklahoma City Thunder had surrounded him with, and he was traded to the Houston Rockets to play with fellow NBA-All Star and close friend, James Harden. Some fans of Westbrook’s claimed that this was the year he finally captured that NBA title that had managed to elude him in his career so far, and now that he had help, there was no one that could stop him.
However, the same poor shooting and efficiency that had affected Westbrook during his time on the Thunder was once again on full display for the Rockets, and after another earlier-than-expected playoff exit, Rockets management concluded that they were done with the Westbrook experiment. After just one season for the Rockets, Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards.
Westbrook’s time in Washington is hard to critique as unlike his past teams, this Wizards team had no real expectations other than all-star shooting-guard Bradley Beal. However, Westbrook and Beal were enough to lead this Wizards squad to the playoffs as the eight seed, where they ultimately lost in five games to the number one seeded Philadelphia 76ers. While expectations were far from high, Westbrook still managed to disappoint, and shot 33.3% from the floor in the Wizards’ five playoff games.
Despite making the playoffs when no one expected them to, and giving the Sixers a decent fight, Wizards management, like Houston before them, realized that Westbrook was not the solution, and traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers — meaning that Westbrook would be playing four years in a row for four different teams.
Flash forward to the current season, and Westbrook has become one of the most hated players on his childhood team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans have criticized Westbrook relentlessly, making comments saying he is “washed” or not as good as he used to be, and calling him out for his many high-turnover, low-shooting percentage performances this season.
However, many fans that are being critical of Westbrook are of the assumption that these performances are unique to this season. In reality, for almost his entire career, Westbrook has put up great statistics to hide his poor shooting ability, and now that he is playing for the Lakers, the microscope is more zoomed in on him than ever before.