Russell Westbrook needs 16 rebounds tonight against the Grizzlies in order to average a triple-double for the second straight season, which would be an unimpeachably impressive achievement. After Carmelo Anthony joked earlier this week about Westbrook “stealing” rebounds, Westbrook spoke out against those who discount his rebounding numbers as somehow fake.
At practice today Westbrook was asked an apparently unrelated question about Steven Adams’s rebounding, at which point he went off, noting that, “If people could get 20 rebounds every night, they would. If people could get 15 rebounds, they would.”
Here’s a transcript, via Royce Young:
A lot people make jokes about whatever, stat-padding or going to get rebounds. If people could get 20 rebounds every night, they would. If people could fucking get 15 rebounds, they would. People that’s talking or saying whatever they need to say, they should try doing it and see how hard it is.
Since everybody wants to be talking, I’m tired of hearing the same old rebound this, stealing rebounds, all this shit. I take pride in what I do. I come out and play, and I get the ball faster than someone else gets to it. That’s what it is. If you don’t want it, I’m gonna get it. Simple as that.
Yes, Westbrook will occasionally nab rebounds that his other teammates could easily have grabbed, and, yes, he will almost certainly make a point of screaming into the lane when various Grizzlies scrubs chuck up bricks tonight. But as Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has repeatedly stated, there’s a legitimate basketball advantage to getting the ball into Westbrook’s hands as quickly and directly as possible. No other point guard in the league is as terrifying in transition, and Westbrook grabbing a rebound that otherwise would have fallen to Adams means that the Thunder can kick into high gear and fly down the court. “Any time you can have a guard like that to come back and rebound the way he does, because we want to push the break, when he gets it off the rebound he’s able to jump-start the break and a lot of good things happen from that,” Anthony said.
This may not excuse the most egregious instances of rebound-hogging, but Westbrook’s overreaches, such that they exist, do not make him any less talented of a rebounder. Getting 10 boards a game is not a meaningless exercise, and neither the Thunder nor Westbrook would be as successful if he didn’t make a point of crashing the glass.
Westbrook was a deserving MVP last season not simply because he got the few extra rebounds and assists necessary to amass 42 triple-doubles. To reduce his 2016-17 season to nothing more than a prize recognizing the triple-double would be to dismiss his staggering work in crunch time and his league-leading scoring average. If he gets his rebounds tonight and averages another triple-double for the season it won’t make him the MVP, not because of any inconsistency among voters, but because he was demonstrably worse this season. James Harden’s forthcoming MVP award does not invalidate Westbrook’s MVP from last year, the same way that Westbrook’s least meaningful rebounds do not cheapen his entire body of work.