It seems that there has been a growing narrative about Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook over the past three years. Ever since his former teammate Kevin Durant shocked the NBA world by deciding to leave the Thunder for the already-stacked Golden State Warriors, many were wondering what the main impetus was for Durant’s departure.
As it turned out, one main reason was that Durant didn’t necessarily like being Westbrook’s teammate, as was shown through his social media actions. Durant, and anyone who has played with Westbrook, knows that it can be a difficult task to be the co-star alongside him. Westbrook plays an ultra-aggressive style of basketball that can sometimes border on reckless. As the point guard, it’s typically his duty to get everyone involved and to elevate his team.
Yet, even though Russell has put up incredible stats the past two seasons, averaging a triple-double in back-to-back years, the narrative has become about Westbrook’s inability to lift his teammates on the court. Although Westbrook led the league in assists last year, he’s been criticized as a “stat-padder” that chases individual accolades over team success. Therefore, great players tend to be overshadowed and can get frustrated due to Wesbrook’s erratic playing style and decision-making down the stretch of close games.
The phenomenon of starting players getting better after they leave Oklahoma City is dubbed “The Russell Westbrook Effect,” and we can trace it’s origin to Durant’s surprising departure. Even though Durant was an MVP-caliber player while playing alongside Westbrook, Durant’s numbers have been even more impressive on the Warriors. He has become a much more efficient shooter as well as an elite defender. While it’s impossible to pin all of this on the fact that he left Westbrook, there is no denying that Durant seems to be much happier with his new teammates.
Another clear-cut example of “The Westbrook Effect” can be seen via the breakout campaign of Victor Oladipo. Originally drafted by the Orlando Magic, Oladipo was traded to the Thunder to be their starting shooting guard. He struggling playing next to the All-Star point guard as he saw his assists and scoring numbers drop. Disappointed by his lack of production, the Thunder ended up trading Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star Paul George.
In the wake of the trade, Oladipo much wasn’t expected of him, but he blossomed into one of the best young players in the league. He averaged a career-high 23 points per game, along with leading the league in steals with 2.4 swipes a game. It is evident that the Pacers found themselves a stud that the Thunder had in their gymnasium, but couldn’t mold him into the player he is today.
Meanwhile, George is seeing the unfortunate side of “The Westbrook Effect” now that he is starting next to Westbrook. Like other players before him, George’s stats and efficiency has dipped.Without the ability to make plays, George has been relegated to the position of second scorer. His full potential is being wasted as he was once recognized as one of the best two-way players in the league. This is a theme for Westbrook, even when playing with former bench players like James Harden and Enes Kanter. It is hard for himto get everyone involved when he spends so much energy trying to get himself going.
Whether it’s stars like Durant and Oladipo or role players like Sabonis and Kanter, players that leave OKC (and Westbrook) tend to improve the following season.Will Carmelo Anthony be the next player to benefit from leaving Westbrook behind after joining the Houston Rockets?
Last year, Anthony’s role in Thunder games was essentially reduced to being a spot-up shooter and the third scoring option. The usual bucket-getter we were so used to seeing in Melo was nonexistent on the Thunder and his sub-par defense made matters worse . Anthony averaged career lows in scoring, points, and field goal percentage.
This coming year will be very telling for the future of both Westbrook and Anthony’s careers. According to reports, Westbrook has been working hard all summer to improve both his three-point shooting and decision-making. After having lost many All-NBA players like Harden, Durant, Oladipo, and Anthony, it is time for Westbrook to prove that he can flourish while letting others flourish beside him. If George can have a bounce-back season in terms of efficiency numbers, then Westbrook’s status around the league will improve.
As for Anthony, he has the chance to prove that last season was an aberration caused by Westbrook . Now, playing for one of the best teams in the NBA, Anthony has a good shot at repairing his legacy if he plays the same role he had on the Thunder with more efficiency. He can validate his iso-ball playing style if he is able to be a key part of a Rockets championship run.
It’s not like Westbrook can’t make his teammates better–one just has to look at Steven Adams or Serge Ibaka as examples. Westbrook thrives in the pick-and-roll and can find the big men on his team with ease, due to his explosiveness off the dribble. If Westbrook can even slightly modify his game to include a more perimeter-focused game, then he can rid himself of the stigma that lends credence to “The Westbrook Effect.” Until then, Anthony can show us once again how real the effect is.