On Thursday afternoon, the NBA released its opening ballot returns in the fan vote for the 2013 NBA All-Star game in Houston. While I figured Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul would be at the top of the fan voting, along with the sensation that is Jeremy Lin also commandeering a ton of votes, I was shocked to find Russell Westbrook ranked 5th in the fan voting thus far. You're probably asking, who's in fourth thus far? That person would be James Harden. (Okay, I'm not surprised at all by this. I mean, the game is in Houston and Harden's fifth in scoring in the NBA, so I'm fine with that.)
But fifth? Really? Have you all been paying attention? Don't you all realize that the best point guard in the NBA is the one that wears No. 0 for the Thunder? Lets discuss, shall we?
Seeing James Harden ranked fourth in the All-Star voting actually helps me validate what Westbrook's been all about thus far this season. With the dynamic scorer Harden leaving for H-Town, Kevin Martin coming in from the trade to keepthe second unit afloat and Serge Ibaka's evolution of a jump-shooting machine, the burden has been a big one to carry for the team leaders. So while the great Kevin Durant's game has definitely evolved yet again this season, the play of Westbrook 22 games into the season just feels different. The team feels different.
The ball is moving even more. The players moves are more precise. You can hear the players talking even more (through the television). A lot of this credit should go to Westbrook. From being relentless in pushing the ball, setting others up, (especially Ibaka) and playing hellacious defense, that type of effort permeates through an entire team. Moreover, that "look" on Westbrook's face hasn't been there quite as much either. He even looks happier on the court.
Per Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, it seems that his teammates have noticed:
"His communication skills toward everybody have been off the charts," Perkins said. "We used to call Russ, 'Trey,' as in Russell Westbrook III. He would act like a little Trey, where he would go off and no one could talk to him last year. It happened a few times. But there's been none of that this year. He's been a great leader."
Westbrook's evolution as a playmaker has been evident, and the stats back it up. Let me just throw share a couple of factiods with you real quick that you may or may not have known.
- Russell Westbrook is 6th in the NBA in scoring, 21.1
- T-4th in assists, 8.5
- T-6th in steals, 1.95
- T-8th in free throw attempts, 5.9
- T-1st in OHSHITHEJUSTDIDTHATWOWGOODNESSGRACIOUS (tied with LeBron James)
So while folks are beginning to craft the story that Carmelo Anthony should receive consideration for the MVP along with LeBron and KD, Westbrook's name should definitely be thrown in the hat. One of the benefits of Harden leaving for Houston is that someone had to pick up his slack. Westbrook's done this with the same gusto he displays when becoming the one-man fast break. The trick now will be sustainability, as the man who's gauges seemingly are always in the red will inevitably overheat from time to time.
But that's okay. When you're 18-4 with the league's best record, the opportunity to tinker with and craft the skills necessary to be ready in the playoffs. As far as I'm concerned, as long as Russ is playing hard, focused like a borderline maniac, he's all good with me. Dunks like this help.