Then on Sunday, Westbrook set an immediate tone against Indiana, deflecting passes, wrecking havoc all over the backcourt and dominating his individual matchup with George Hill, who finished 2-of-8 for four points.
“He's just got elite athleticism, the ability to contain, the ability to pressure, the ability to disrupt with his hands and force turnovers,” Pacers coach and noted defensive mastermind Frank Vogel said. “Even his ability to switch onto bigger players and not be exploited just gives the coach a great deal of luxury and flexibility in terms of the things you can do defensively.”
But the problem with Westbrook is consistency.
He looks like an All-World defensive player one night and gets burned the next. Like what happened Dec. 3 in Sacramento, when Isaiah Thomas lit up OKC for 21 points in the fourth quarter, much of it coming against Westbrook.
“I think he picks and chooses his spots because he understands his offensive load, and the number of minutes he plays is high,” former teammate and longtime friend Earl Watson said. “But if Russ wanted to, he could be one of the top defenders in the league at his position.”
Some would argue Westbrook already is, including Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who called him “one of the best defensive players in the world.”
But Westbrook's propensity to gamble a bit too much and an occasional night off will likely hold him from consideration in that top-tier category.
But regardless, at his best, Westbrook has become a clear factor on both ends of the floor.