Dwyane Wade says Russell Westbrook makes the Thunder “very special.”
Kendrick Perkins credits Westbrook with giving “our team swag,” with giving Perkins swag.
Through the first five years of his NBA career, Westbrook has established himself as an elite player while averaging 19.9 points, 6.9 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
But it's not numbers that make Westbrook Westbrook.
It's the on-court attitude he brings, infusing a constant flow of energy, whether it's a mid-February laugher against Toronto or Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Put simply, Westbrook is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound blue streak, playing at a breakneck end-to-end pace, unaware or unbothered by potential obstacles.
He's a matchup nightmare for opposing point guards, confidently believing he's the best player on the court and mercilessly trying to embarrass you to prove it.
“There's no one else like him in the NBA," Heat star Wade told reporters during the 2012 Finals. “Personally, I think he's the most athletic guy in the NBA for what he does and how he does it and how quick he does it.”
But with the 2013-14 season set to tip, doubts linger.
Coming off a second surgery on his right knee, this one an arthroscopic procedure to clean up complications from a meniscus tear, Westbrook isn't expected back until December.
On the surface, it doesn't seem like a severe setback. And the Thunder brass remains publicly confident that he'll return as explosive as ever. He's even been seen dunking during the portions of practice that he's able to participate.
But with a long history of NBA talent losing career-long battles to that fragile joint, and Derrick Rose's knee complications fresh on everybody's mind, concern reigns.
Now an NBA analyst at TNT, Chris Webber is a great example of that. In 2003, just after his 30th birthday, Webber went down with a bad knee injury in the Western Conference Finals, forcing him to get microfracture surgery. He was never the same.
“I think (Westbrook's) injury is a lot different (than mine),” Webber said of the 25-year-old. “Westbrook is one of the most athletic guys in the league, and I think his age is his best asset right now. He didn't have to go through microfracture … In no way is (a meniscus tear) the same injury.”
But until Westbrook returns to the court and shows a return to form, the future of the Thunder franchise remains a bit in limbo.
“I expect him to be the same person, if not better, because of his attitude,” Webber said. “I think the way you attack rehabilitation and also just the pressure you put on yourself to be a better player, usually to me, is what separates some of the greats from the others. And I think that he has that in him, that ability, that competitive ability, that drive to stay focused during rehab and then get back to where he was. So I really don't think it will affect him that much.”
We can only wait and see.