Russell Westbrook is headed for a summer of reckoning. Three straight triple-double seasons have been followed by three straight first-round playoff exits. This latest 4-1 defeat by the Blazers did not show many signs of progress, and, thanks to Damian Lillard, even cast his weaknesses in starker relief. Westbrook’s jumper has rarely looked worse; he shot a catastrophic 36 percent from the floor in the series. His bounce isn’t quite what it used to be, either; he managed just 46 percent at the rim. It’d be idiotic to write off a player with the incredible tools Westbrook still has, but the Thunder star does need to adapt in meaningful ways as he transitions into his late career. Something has got to give, and Russell Westbrook is not exactly the most yielding substance.
There may be hope yet, sort of. Westbrook apparently just gave a 17-minute exit interview, which ESPN’s Thunder beat man Royce Young described as “thoughtful and candid about a number of things, including the way he plays and his reputation.” It’d be fascinating to see that transcript in full, but for now, Young has shared some bits and pieces.
Westbrook has softened up on at least one front: he apparently ended his moratorium on questions from Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, answering this humdinger about triple-doubles.
The Blazers regularly sagged way off Westbrook in the half-court, inviting him to shoot his shot. He often did, and, outside of a single game, failed to make them pay. Here’s the extent of his thought process in that scenario.
Then there’s this bit about how he copes with criticism.
And this bit about how he copes with criticism:
And this answer about his plans for improvement outside of jump-shooting, which ends up being about how he copes with criticism.
The wounds are still fresh, and he hasn’t had much time to digest what just happened, and it’s probably hard to give astute answers to a press you openly disdain, and maybe the best chunks of the interview are yet to come, but ... this doesn’t yet inspire a ton of hope. Fittingly, these quotes are aggravating in almost the exact same way Westbrook’s game can be aggravating: gestures towards honest self-reflection are never too far away from another rim-clanking reference to the “haters.”
Unwavering self-belief and resistance to input are at the very core of being Russell Westbrook. But if just being regular old Russell Westbrook is no longer enough to win meaningful basketball games, then he would be doing himself a disservice by not trying something new.