Russell Westbrook plays basketball like he's fleeing a burning house. Or shopping at Super Target on Black Friday.
Westbrook is in a hurry and he doesn't care who's in his way.
The Thunder point guard is aggressive. Forceful. Relentless. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and an inferno in his spirit.
There is nothing intricate about Westbrook's game. He does not play with precision. Westbrook plays with passion.
“Only way I know how to play,” says Braveheart. “I was brought up no other way. It works.
“Every player has something that works for them and they use to get going. That's just how I am.”
So you can want Westbrook to be a pass-first point guard. You can want him to tone down the finger pistols after making a 3-pointer. You can want him to look for openings in a defense rather than just creating his own.
Want all you want. Westbrook is not going to change. And Thunder coach Scott Brooks doesn't want Westbrook to change.
“He's one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said. But if Westbrook loses that edge, that fire, that Braveheart persona, “he's not going to be that a high-end, high-level player. He has to play with that.
“He gets himself going by playing with a lot of emotion. He's our emotional leader. When he's on, we're a very difficult team to handle, because he's aggressive and he attacks and he's relentless and he demands so much attention.”
But maybe we have the wrong idea on why Westbrook takes no prisoners. We've always assumed it was disrespect. Lightly-recruited out of high school before getting UCLA's last scholarship. Not projected as a high draft pick and panned when taken fourth overall by the Thunder.
Westbrook says no. That's not what drives him. Says he never listens to the doubters.
“I don't pay no mind to the bad stuff,” Westbrook said. “I tune out every stuff. One day bad, one day good, you never know. I tune it out all and just play. Try to get better each and every year. That's my job.”
Westbrook says he was born with his burning style.
“It's natural,” Westbrook said. “I can't play well without playing that way. That's just how I am. Not nothing I force, think about before the game. It's just natural.”
And the chip on the shoulder? That wasn't produced by analysts or fans or media. That was his upbringing.
“Just growing up and not having much,” Westbrook said. “So now you've gotta work to get something. Championship, you gotta find a way to get it.”
Work. That's what Westbrook does. He works. Few basketball players in history have improved so exponentially every year for six years.
But Westbrook has, from Leuzinger High School in Greater Los Angeles to UCLA Year 1 to UCLA Year 2 to each of his four Thunder seasons. He's new and improved every season.
“Just try to figure out a way to get things done,” said Westbrook, who takes the court with a sword and a shield, ready to attack.
If anyone still doubted Russell Westbrook's credentials for superstardom, they were sufficiently rebuffed in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last June.
Westbrook scored 43 points against the Heat in a 104-98 loss. Remarkably, Westbrook got just three foul shots. He made 20 of 32 shots.
Westbrook scored eight times on drives all the way to the basket, most of them requiring acrobatics at the end. He sank seven mid-range jumpers and two deep 2-pointers. Westbrook dunked in a rebound, made a short jumper and quickly banked in a pass as the shot clock was running out.
It was a mesmerizing performance, considering he also had five assists and seven rebounds. Of the 10 players in NBA Finals history with at least 43 points in a game, only three did so by making at least 62 percent of their shots. Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal and Russell Westbrook.