Westbrook may have had best game since joining Wizards vs. Blazers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
After a tumultuous two months that included a lingering quadriceps injury, a dislocated finger, a coronavirus outbreak that ravaged the team around him, too many turnovers and plenty of missed shots, Russell Westbrook is finally starting to do Russell Westbrook things. He showed glimpses at times throughout this season, his first in Washington, but now the Wizards are seeing it more consistently.
On Saturday night in their win over the Blazers, Westbrook played arguably his best game yet. He had his usual triple-double, this time with 27 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, but also went 11-for-17 (64.7%) from the field, the first time this season he's shot above 60% this season.
Westbrook flew past defenders all night, showing more precision on his passes and when finishing around the rim than he had all season to this point. He still committed seven turnovers, but also played sound defense on Damian Lillard, who shot just 10-for-30 on the night.
All in all, it was what the Wizards would like to see from Westbrook more often.
"S---, I made shots I usually make. That's it," Westbrook said with a big smile.
"I stayed locked in, stayed sticking to my routine. Every season I know is a long season," Westbrook said. "I'm a guy that wants to create consistency and that gets better as the season goes on."
Of all the obstacles listed above, the quad injury seems to have affected him the most. He first got hit in training camp, then reaggravated it twice during games. The Wizards then sat him out for two weeks to let it heal. When he came back, there was a secondary process of playing himself into shape.
Now it seems like every game he has a little more burst. On Saturday, it was evidenced by a putback slam he had on a dead play. He jumped off two legs and finished with power like he hasn't often done this season.
"I had to stop because I wasn't able to explode and move the way I needed to," Westbrook said of sitting out games. "Now I'm feeling a lot better. I'm able to move around and explode."
Head coach Scott Brooks has seen Westbrook impact the Wizards beyond his play on the court. A 13-year veteran and nine-time All-NBA selection, Westbrook's voice carries a lot of weight, particularly with the younger players.
Brooks said Westbrook was very vocal on Saturday night in the first quarter as the Wizards ended the frame down 43-31, only to come back in the second quarter and rout the Blazers 30-12.
"The guy's a championship player; how he prepares, how he talks to our guys, how he forces the team to be ready," Brooks said.
"You can ask any player on our team. He means business. This is not a hobby for him. A lot of times in this league, people look at it as a hobby. It's fun, we get to do something we love. And I get that. But it's still your job, it's your livelihood. It's how you represent your organization, your city, your family, your coaches. Russell does that at the highest level I've seen. I've been with him a long time in OKC. He's always been a player that wanted to get better, that gave everything he had, that left everything on the practice court and the game court. He's done that for us," Brooks said.
Going into this season, Brooks and others in the organization lauded Westbrook's leadership abilities and laid out a vision for how he would help them continue to build a winning culture. They saw Westbrook as someone who, along with Beal, could set a tone that would help the front office and coaching staff with player development as they mold young players.
Brooks believes wholeheartedly that Westbrook is having that effect already with the Wizards despite only being with them for two-plus months.
"He's given us a pathway to how to be a championship-level player. Our young guys need it. Sometimes they don't understand how hard he is on them, but they're going to realize it in the years to come. That's how you start out your career the right way, by being around good players," Brooks said.
"We've seen it time and time again; young players around bad veterans is a disaster. We've seen it many times. I've seen it as a player. Russell and Brad [Beal] are great examples for our young players to look up to."
With Westbrook playing better, the Wizards have now won four straight games, their longest win streak in three years. It's only four games, but it could be the start of something much bigger if he keeps it up.