Maybe it's reached cliché status by now, but that familiar refrain that pops into your life every time Russell Westbrook does something amazing -- Let Westbrook be Westbrook -- is rather profound. To get the maximum benefit out of having Westbrook run your team, you really do need to let him be himself. Caging a hungry cheetah saves only his victims. Why would you help your opponents by shackling Westbrook when his mental and physical gifts are uniquely suited to reckless abandon?
Think about Westbrook's best basketball attributes. He's incredibly athletic (he's fast and he can jump), has good size for his position, is utterly fearless, possesses good court vision, has strong body control and a quick release and -- most importantly -- gives zero damns about what the right play would be at any given moment. Now, think about his basketball shortcomings. He's prone to making bad decisions with the ball (see; zero damns given) and he's not a top deep shooter.
Why would you want a player with that collection of attributes to be a pass-first, half-court point guard? It makes no sense! The entirety of Westbrook's skills, mentality and body serves to create an aggressive, high-volume scoring guard who creates tons of shots and never second-guesses himself.
This isn't Lego. You can't take the Russell Westbrook set and rearrange the pieces to get Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. There's no making a bakery out of a spaceship set. All you would do if you tried to force Westbrook not to be Westbrook is end up with a neutered version, a less effective, less confident Westbrook. What's the point? He's RUSSELL WESTBROOK because of that confidence and lack of conscience. It'd be like telling Allen Iverson to stop dribbling so much or Jason Williams to ease up on the no-looks. If you want a different player, go get a different player. Don't hack away at the one you have.
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More than that, Westbrook's physical attributes make his mental approach more inevitable. If your biggest advantage is the ability to blow past everyone in the open court and get off quick shots while flying at the rim, then you ought to be aggressive so that you get more opportunities to use that advantage.
Something that always seemed screwy about the Bulls' offense when Derrick Rose was healthy is that it remained devoted to the halfcourt. That's likely due to Tom Thibodeau's Van Gundy roots and the teamwide focus on aggressive defense, which is easier to commit to for 80 possessions than 100. That said, Rose's best attribute is his athleticism, and athleticism is most valuable in the open court. Rose still found a way to sneak in some crazy flights thanks to a wicked first step and killer crossover, but he could be much more powerful if only the Bulls opened up the floor a bit more (imagine Rose with Kevin Love, for instance).
In Oklahoma City, Westbrook has the freedom to use his advantage, and perhaps a big factor in Westbrook's freedom is Scott Brooks' hands-off nature. Remember, Westbrook's weaknesses are his decision-making and shooting. That's much more problematic in half-court situations, is it not?
The final Thunder possession is a perfect example. Coming out of an official review, the Thunder had 10 seconds to make up a two-point deficit. Westbrook took about the worst shot possible; a deep, contested pull-up three with six seconds left. It was a quintessential Bad Westbrook moment.
... only Chris Paul fouled him, the referees called it and Westbrook won the game with three free throws. That's a little taste of crunchtime half-court Westbrook. You want more of that? Or would you prefer his other 35 points, many of which came on aggressive moves to the rim in transition, the secondary break or broken half-court plays (is there any Thunder half-court situation that isn't ultimately a broken play)?
For Westbrook to be the player he is and can be, those opportunities for bad decisions need to be drowned out by so much glorious Good Westbrook. And the Good Westbrook comes out when Westbrook is still giving zero damns, but is in the middle of chaos (often which he created). Westbrook thrives in chaos. Westbrook has the ability to consistently create chaos. Let Westbrook Be Westbrook is all about embracing that formula for success. Let the man create some chaos and then own it.
What's always been most interesting about the Thunder's makeup is how GM Sam Presti came to draft Westbrook. Kevin Durant was a no-brainer at No. 2, and James Harden wasn't a reach by any means in 2009. Serge Ibaka was simply a great pick in the 20s. But why Westbrook at No. 4 in 2008? During much of the run-up to that draft, Westbrook was considered a late lottery prospect. I remember clearly that us Kings fans, with Sacramento picking at No. 12, thought he could slip. The Kings ended up with Jason Thompson, and we fumed that Anthony Randolph was on the board. C'est la vie.
Coming out of UCLA, most saw Westbrook as a shoot-happy guard without enough size or shooting to play at off guard. But he could fly, and that's always worth a second and a third look. What more did Presti see that convinced him Westbrook would be a star? Was it a lucky bet on a high-potential prospect? Is there something in the combination of boundless aggression and supreme athleticism that typically ends up in success? How did Presti see Westbrook co-existing with Durant long-term? Did he, or did he just take the best prospect available? There are plenty of mysteries to Westbrook's story.
Whether he should be turned into something else is not one of them. The answer is always and forever going to be "No."