Given all the criticism that surrounds Russell Westbrook, it's hard to fathom he now is surrounded by the two greatest point guards in NBA history.
Westbrook entered Tuesday night's home game against the Utah Jazz needing 11 points to reach 5,000 in his young career. He already had surpassed 1,900 in career assists and 1,300 in career rebounds.
By reaching the scoring plateau, the 23-year-old Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to reach these totals through their first 274 games.
“That's pretty good, huh?” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, confronting doubting reporters with a smile. “Just think if he played the way you want him to play.”
Westbrook got his 5,000th point with 2:54 left in the second quarter of OKC's 111-85 victory over the Jazz.
Oddly, the milestone came on an alley-oop pass from Thunder point center Kendrick Perkins, who stole the ball at the opposite free-throw line and dribbled 50 feet before delivering the assist.
Brooks claimed he had no idea of the company Westbrook was keeping, and Westbrook seemed surprised himself.
“That's a great group of guys to be even close with,” Westbrook said. “It's a good accomplishment.”
Teammates think the achievement is significantly better than “good.”
Kevin Durant: “That's a big-time feat. To be up there with the greats of the game is an honor. I'm sure he's very excited. I'm happy for him. He's done so much in this league, and he has a lot to go. I'm glad I'm playing with him.”
Daequan Cook: “Man, that's amazing. He does a lot for this team. A lot of people don't recognize that, but those are great names to be with. It just shows how much of a teammate he really is. As a player, you want to improve every year. Russell, he does that. He works on something every year.”
Thabo Sefolosha: “He's talented. He's just got that natural talent and confidence. I'm happy for him. That speaks volumes for a guy his age. A lot of people criticize his game, but he gets it done and you have to take the good with the bad.”
Royal Ivey: “He takes a lot of scrutiny, but he handles it well. He's a great player. Emotionally, he's high-energy. Those numbers, it's remarkable to be in that company and it's only going to get better once he settles into his role because he has a world of talent. His will to win, that's what I love about him. He's a competitor, man. I put him with the higher-echelon point guards in the league.”
When Westbrook reached the scoring plateau, there was no stoppage in play, nor was an announcement made to the sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena — nor should there have been, because Westbrook's career numbers are only going to get bigger.
For a player who supposedly does so many things poorly, Westbrook apparently can play a little bit of ball.
“He knows how to play a lot of ball,” Perkins said. “He also knows how to handle the criticism. I think he bounces back well every time he hears stuff. He's a strong-minded kid. The stuff he has to go through on a daily basis and he's still putting up numbers. He work hard, man. He definitely deserves it. He's a great guy, too.”
Westbrook can fill up a stat sheet as well as any guard who has ever played.
“Russell's a dynamic player,” Brooks said.
Westbrook is so dynamic, Brooks asks him to improve all facets of his game, not just certain areas.
“He's one of the few guys that you can challenge him in all areas – rebounding, defending, pick-and-rolls, post-ups, passing, shooting – and he's improved in a lot of areas. With some guys you can say, ‘Hey, I just need you to shoot the ball better, because you can't do anything else (smiling).'”
As a rookie, Westbrook averaged 15.3 points and shot 39.8 percent from the field. This season, he is scoring 22.6 points and shooting 46.8 percent, thanks to an improved touch from 16-23 feet.
“e can do everything, man,” Ivey said. “He's a stat-stuffer.”