HOUSTON â€” Russell Westbrook recently was asked by the NBA if he would like to compete in this year's slam dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's point guard told the league thanks but no thanks.
But Westbrook said he could change his mind and participate in his first-ever dunk contest.
â€œOne of these years I'm going to be in it,â€ Westbrook said. â€œI just don't know if it's going to be this year.â€
It might as well be.
At this rate, Westbrook will be in Los Angeles anyway for the big game.
In just his third season, Westbrook has emerged as a top-five point guard. And after the first month of the season, it's beginning to look like Westbrook is a lock for the 2011 All-Star game.
Westbrook has been the Thunder's best player to this point. And it really hasn't been close. Entering Sunday's game at Houston, Westbrook held averages of 23.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals, all career-highs. He also has boosted his field-goal percentage from 41.8 percent a year ago to 43.9 percent this season. And his 90 percent foul shooting is a career-best as well, with his 139 makes before Sunday's game at Houston leading all players.
Utah's Deron Williams and New Orleans' Chris Paul, who leads the Hornets to town tonight, are widely considered the league's best two point guards. But both are averaging fewer points and rebounds than Westbrook, while dishing out roughly two more assists per game.
â€œThat's a great accomplishment, just to be in the (All-Star) conversation and know that people are looking at you in that manner,â€ Westbrook said.
Westbrook, though, should have been in last year's game. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant missed the game due to injury, but NBA Commissioner David Stern snubbed Westbrook when he selected Jason Kidd as Bryant's replacement.
But it might have been a blessing in disguise for Westbrook, who now is likely to play his first All-Star game in his backyard. Westbrook grew up just outside of L.A.
â€œIt's not something that I have on my mind,â€ Westbrook said. â€œIt would be good to have something like that under your belt but I'm not playing for it.â€
Westbrook has just groomed himself to be in this position since he was an overlooked prospect at UCLA.
â€œHe was my roommate in college, and he was the type of person that was the first in the gym and the last to leave,â€ said Minnesota forward and former Bruins teammate Kevin Love. â€œI wanted to be that guy but he always seemed to beat me there and also stay longer. He was the guy always getting extra work in and you could tell that he was destined to be a great player and destined to have a big impact on the NBA.â€
Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles, a former point guard, has watched Westbrook blossom from afar. Skiles remembers how many doubted Westbrook's potential to play the point guard position after he was drafted fourth overall in 2008.
â€œSometimes in his rookie year, maybe that played out but not anymore,â€ Skiles said. â€œHe makes very good decisions out there for the most part â€¦ I think as he's gotten a little bit older, even though he's still very young, his decisions have gotten better on the break and in the half-court.â€
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook deserves everything good that comes his way. And whether it does or not, Brooks said, Westbrook will continue to work to be the best player he can possible be.
â€œOne of Russell's strength is he has great belief in himself,â€ Brooks said. â€œHe doesn't play with a fear to fail. That's a great quality of his. He puts his will into the game every night and that is what makes him unique.â€
Thunder vs. Hornets
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Oklahoma City Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* This is the first of four meetings between the two teams.
* The Thunder went 2-1 against the Hornets last season.
* The Hornets are holding opponents to a league-low 91.1 points per game.
Pos., Player, Ht., Pts., Reb., Ast
G, Russell Westbrook, 6-3, 23.8, 5.2, 8.3
G, Thabo Sefolosha, 6-7, 6.4, 5.1, 1.7
F, Kevin Durant, 6-9, 28.1, 6.9, 2.9
F, Jeff Green, 6-9, 18.3, 6.8, 1.2
C, Nenad Krstic, 7-0, 7.8, 4.9, 0.4
G, Chris Paul, 6-0, 16.6, 4.8, 10.3
G, Marco Belinelli, 6-5, 12.7, 2.3, 1.2
F, Trevor Ariza, 6-8, 11.1, 5.3, 2.5
F, David West, 6-9, 18.2, 6.5, 1.9
C, Emeka Okafor, 6-10, 9.8, 9.6, 0.3 Note: Stats and record are through Saturday's games.