Now that Russell Westbrook has proved his legitimacy as an NBA point guard, the Thunder's third-year man is now working on defining what kind of floor leader he'll be.
Finding a balance between barking instructions, providing gentle advice and leading by example is Westbrook's latest challenge. It's a significant objective that could soon shape how smooth the Thunder is offensively.
"I think each year it's improved," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Westbrook's leadership. "It probably still needs to take another step. And we're looking for that this year. It's hard to lead as a first- or second-year player. You just have to gain that respect. But he's gained the respect of his teammates and coaches."
This season, we could see Westbrook shouting at his teammates more often. But teammates say that won't necessarily be a bad thing.
"You're going to need a point guard that's going to yell at you a little bit and tell you where to go and demand a little bit from you," said Kevin Durant. "He's great at letting everybody know where we need to be and what we need to do to get better. He's growing every day, and it's a joy to watch."
In his rookie season, Westbrook hardly ever shouted instructions. Durant recalled how Westbrook relied on pointing and how Westbrook seemed shy. It wasn't until last year that Westbrook felt comfortable being more verbally assertive with teammates.
"I figured if I'm going to be here, I've got to be able to run the team and be able talk to everybody and communicate with other people," Westbrook said.
Brooks has demanded more vocal leadership from Westbrook.
"I tell him that's the job of a point guard," Brooks said. "You've got to be demanding out there. You got to make sure they're in the right position because I don't yell at them as much as I yell at him. That's just the way it is. He's my coach on the floor. And he has to be able to vocalize every time down court where we need to be. And if they're not in position it's on him."
Durant described Westbrook as being "light years better than he was in year one." And Brooks called Westbrook "authentic," praising his point guard for not talking for the sake of talking.
"You don't want to do too much talking," Westbrook said. "But you also want to construct and orchestrate what's going on out on the floor so you can have a little control over what's going to happen."
Much of Westbrook's improvement can be attributed to his enhanced understanding of team concepts and teammate's preferences. Westbrook has learned where each player likes the ball while knowing how best to get it to them within the team's schemes.
"It's the toughest position," Brooks said. "And you never master it.
"Four players want the ball, and they think they're open every time down the court. The coach wants the ball in a certain player's hands at a certain time. And Russell's a dynamic player that can score so he has to balance attacking and passing. But he's done a good job. He understands the personality of our team and he gets us going."