PHOENIX — The kid who supposedly was drafted way too early and has been playing out of position since he joined the NBA three years ago has become an all-star at age 22.
Validation came Thursday for Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook with his selection as a Western Conference reserve for the Feb. 20 All-Star Game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Westbrook will be playing roughly 15 miles from where he grew up, thanks to conference coaches voting him as one of seven reserve players.
“We're very proud of Russell. He's worked extremely hard,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We love the way he believes in work. A lot of people thought – and we were not one of them – that he wasn't a true point guard, but he was our point guard. We just saw the desire he had and the commitment he had in his own development.”
Westbrook's selection comes at the most competitive conference position in the NBA, where Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and Chris Paul (New Orleans) were voted on as starters through fan balloting.
Coaches voted Manu Ginobili (San Antonio) and Deron Williams (Utah) as reserves alongside Westbrook. Not chosen were standouts such as Steve Nash (Phoenix), Tony Parker (San Antonio), Monta Ellis (Golden State), Kevin Martin (Houston), Chauncey Billups (Denver), Jason Kidd (Dallas), Andre Miller (Portland) and Eric Gordon (LA Clippers).
Westbrook learned of his selection when the Thunder (31-17) arrived in Phoenix for Friday's 8 p.m. contest against the Suns (23-24). He will join teammate and two-time All-Star Kevin Durant, who was chosen as a starter after fans made him the leading vote-getter among West forwards.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Westbrook wasn't even able to dunk until his senior season at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, Calif.
Westbrook averaged just 9.0 minutes and 3.4 points as a UCLA freshman. He became a starter his sophomore year and averaged 33.8 minutes but a rather modest 12.7 points, 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds before declaring for the NBA.
Considered more of a combo guard than a true point guard, Westbrook has defied critics from the outset of his pro career and is considered by many to be the most athletic player in the league.
Asked to explain his remarkable improvement in just four years, Westbrook said: “I don't know. It's just having a chip on your shoulder, coming in and trying to be the best. Seeing all my teammates work definitely makes you want to work harder. Playing this game is fun. You definitely want to be the best at it.”
Westbrook repeatedly is being praised by his peers, was an first-team all-rookie selection two years ago and joined Durant on Team USA's gold medal team at the FIBA World Championship last summer.
“It's a great thing,” Westbrook said of the recognition. “It just shows people are watching. My parents always told me you never know who's watching, and that's kind of how it's been. People always come up and congratulate me on things that I think aren't really important, but it's a great accomplishment."
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