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OKC Thunder: Is Russell Westbrook an elite defender at the point guard position?

Peers, coaches say Westbrook can definitely play a mean game of defense. But no one really notices what a good defender he is.
by Anthony Slater Published: December 9, 2013

Go back and check the pre-draft reports on Russell Westbrook.

His weaknesses included some of the following: Mid-range game, ability to create his own shot, not a true point guard.

And his strengths included some of the following: Great wingspan, disruptive defender, can guard multiple spots.

“Coming out of college, that was my main focus,” Westbrook said. “Defending every night.”

But more than five years into his career, Westbrook's reputation has flipped.

League-wide, he's feared for his dynamic offensive skill. A nightmare in transition, explosive off the dribble and capable from mid-range, he's liable to explode for 30-plus points on any given night.

But his defensive acumen, the skill that once made him such an intriguing prospect, is hardly ever mentioned.

“You look at All-Star point guards like him, guys who can put the ball up and score,” Kevin Durant said. “You don't look at them at the defensive end …(Russell)'s been an all-defensive player since he's got into the league. A lot of people don't recognize it.”

There are a few numbers and recent examples that would help back Durant's claim.

The past three seasons, Westbrook has placed in the top five in steals per game. And among point guards, during those same three seasons, he has topped the group in rebounds per game, a typically underrated aspect of a defensive possession.

And when determined to do so, he has the capability of locking up an opposing point guard.

Just last Wednesday, in a marquee matchup in Portland, Westbrook hounded Damian Lillard throughout the game, forcing the reigning Rookie of the Year into a 4-of-14 shooting night.

“Yes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said when asked if Westbrook was an elite defender. “Because of his size, his quickness, his athleticism, his toughness. He can cause a lot of problems at that position. He can pressure the ball. He's hard to go by. He creates steals. So yeah, I would put him in that category.”

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by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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