OAKLAND: Stephen Curry isn’t just great, he’s mesmerizing. You can’t take your eyes off of the guy, because you know that any moment he might do something you’ve never seen before on a basketball court.
There is only one Steph Curry, but there is another NBA player who routinely defies mortal ability. His name is Russell Westbrook, he plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and he’s coming to Oracle Arena for the opener of the Western Conference Finals on Monday.
“They both have the ability to dominate games,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after practice Friday. “They have abilities that are exclusive to themselves. Nobody can simulate Russell Westbrook, and I don’t think anybody can simulate Steph.”
We all know Curry’s “exclusive” properties by now. The unprecedented range. The lightning-fast wrist-flick of a release.
What Curry is to shooting, Westbrook is to athletic burst. NBA players are among the most gifted athletes in the world, yet the Thunder point guard seems to own a gear of which his peers can only dream. His quickness to the basket, his coast-to-coast slams, his ability to elevate over taller opponents in a heartbeat—they are fearsome to behold.
A columnist for The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City newspaper, recently asked Thunder players and supporters to describe Westbrook in action.
One fan likened Westbrook’s inimitability to Bob Dylan. Another put it this way: “It’s like watching something on the National Geographic Channel that you have never seen before. You think, ‘Well, that is very interesting and I can understand why that would do something along those lines.’ Then pow! You jump out of your seat and say, ‘You kidding me? No way will I ever see that again.’ Then it happens two days later, only way different than what you just saw the last time, only better!”
The Warriors, of course, are not strangers to the Westbrook Show.
“He’s obviously explosive and does some crazy stuff that I personally can’t do,” Curry said.
The two-time NBA most valuable player added: “At the point guard position, you don’t really see that kind of athleticism every night, so you gotta appreciate it.”
Curry is the best player in the NBA. Westbrook is not quite in that class. It would be hard to argue that he’s the all-around equal of LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard. Heck, Westbrook isn’t even the best player on his team. That distinction probably goes to Kevin Durant, whose length and shooting stroke make him virtually impossible to defend.
And yet Westbrook is the guy who draws your gaze like a magnet. That’s because when he isn’t driving the lane to throw down a windmill dunk, he may be bricking a rushed 28-footer or throwing the ball out of bounds.
For all of his superior skills, Westbrook remains a loose cannon with the basketball. It’s part of what makes him fun to watch, and also what holds him back from true greatness.
Westbrook’s strengths and weaknesses were on display against the Warriors this season. He averaged 25 points, 10.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in three games against Golden State in 2015-16. Those are All-Star numbers. He also shot 34.7 percent from the floor, and 16.7 percent from 3-point range. The Warriors won all three of those games.