As he addressed roughly 400 people on Sunday afternoon at his team's old practice facility, Thunder general manager Sam Presti attempted to identify Russell Westbrook's biggest attribute as a player.
"I think it's safe to say he impacts winning," said Presti, who mentioned Westbrook's back-to-back Final Four appearances in his two seasons at UCLA, which were followed by winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and OKC advancing to the Western Conference Finals — all in a span of just five years and before the age of 23.
Joining Presti and Westbrook on the dais was Thunder coach Scott Brooks, and it took precisely one game for Westbrook to have an impact on Brooks' coaching career.
On Nov. 29, 2008, five games after he was named the Thunder's interim head coach in place of P.J. Carlesimo, Brooks decided to give Westbrook his first career start ahead of Earl Watson. The result was a 111-103 victory at Memphis that gave Brooks his first victory as a head coach and snapped a 14-game losing streak for the Thunder.
"I knew he was going to be the starter, it was just a matter of time," Brooks recalled. "I'm not so sure when P.J. was going to make that change, but I knew when I took over I wanted to do it right away."
Westbrook hasn't missed a single start since — 244 straight and counting — and look where the Thunder is today. The team has the second-best record in the NBA at 13-3 and is a solid contender to claim the Western Conference crown.
"I knew he was going to be our point guard," Brooks said. "I love the fact he kept improving and now I don't have to answer the question, 'Is he a point guard?' He's a dynamic player that with his toughness and his skill set you knew he was going to have a chance to be a really good player in this league."
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