Sometimes, it’s possible to care too much. When you want to win everything, no matter what, the cost of succeeding can sometimes be greater than the success itself.
This was Russell Westbrook’s problem during his early years in the league. His desire to win was unquestionable, perhaps even unquenchable, and while that drive is what made Westbrook Westbrook, it did so at the expense of both wins and alienating his teammates.
Westbrook’s superpower is hard to measure or define. Nick Collison probably comes closest. “His give-a-f— level,” the Thunder forward says, “is very, very high.” Westbrook’s passion is a powerful tool, which when harnessed can be empowering and when unchecked can be isolating. “I’m so emotional and I want to win so badly that it can backfire,” Westbrook says. “Controlling it, using it to my advantage, has been the challenge.”
As Westbrook’s matured, he’s been more successful honing that passion into a positive energy. Kobe Bryant, on the Grantland Basketball Hour, said that Russell Westbrook is the player that most closely resembles his on-court demeanor. Bryant’s half right, in that Westbrook’s mindset on the court, much like his own, is “kill,” but there’s a stark difference in the way the two operate within their respective teams. Whereas Bryant, with his mindset, preferred to poke and prod his teammates, bringing out their aggression and not really caring about being their friends, Westbrook has used his mentality to positively reinforce his teammates.
Last fall Westbrook watched a video of his reactions to plays positive and negative. He noticed how the Thunder responded to his body language for better and worse. “Let’s say a teammate turns it over, and I’m screaming and moving my hands, you can see in his face that he let me down,” Westbrook explains. “And then, on the next play, you can see the lack of confidence.” The opposite was also true. When he celebrated a teammate for hitting a shot, another bucket often ensued. “I saw how my energy can bring the group very high or very low,” Westbrook says. “It was a huge thing for me, a great thing.”
Westbrook still keeps that killer mentality, but he realizes the importance of encouraging his teammates rather than disparaging them. He’s never wanted for energy, and now he’s using it in a way that benefits not just himself, but the entire team. As much progress as Westbrook’s made since his rookie year as a player, this aspect of his growth may be the most important to his team’s overall success. What Bryant never seemed to understand is that a mindset isn’t really infectious. Confidence, however, is – a lesson that’s working for both Westbrook and the Thunder.
The Thunder’s MVP candidate recently dropped his 10th triple-double of the season (31 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in a 135-131 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. This was his eighth triple-double since the All-Star break. It seems there might not actually be a ceiling to just how far Westbrook can go with that confidence. The Thunder need Russ to be as good as he possibly can be, and his teammates to follow his lead, with Kevin Durant on the shelf.