To say that Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is considered an outcast by NBA fans is an understatement. When he was drafted into the league back in 2008, he wasn’t even allowed to hold his jersey up at his introductory press conference. Since then, it’s been a constant struggle to be accepted by the sport’s fans as a true NBA all-star.
When people talk about Russell Westbrook’s lack of athleticism, they almost always focus on the fact that he’s not a great leaper, and that he’s not particularly fast. It’s a bit unfair in my opinion, because Russell is such a good leaper and such a fast dude, but it seems to be a popular opinion.
We all know that Russell Westbrook is one of the most talented players in the NBA. His skills alone helped the Washington Wizards go from a 25-win team in 2019-20 to a playoff team in 2020-21.
However, there is a misconception about Westbrook that has only gained popularity in recent years: He’s potentially a bad teammate. He played with several superstars and always missed the promised land, so it must be him, right? It should be hard for other players to work with Westbrook, not the other way around.
According to Westbrook’s superstar, Bradley Beal, that’s not the case. In fact, Beale has just completely refuted this misconception.
Washington Wizards’ Russell Westbrook before the game against the Brooklyn Nets on January 31, 2021. | Will Newton/Getty Images
It’s hard to say where the misconception comes from that Russ is a bad teammate, but it’s logical to assume that his non-title years with Kevin Durant with the Oklahoma City Thunder had something to do with it.
He and Durant had many chances to win championships together in OKC, but failed miserably. So when Durant left him for Stephen Curry, another point guard, many mistakenly thought Westbrook was a problem on those teams.
At the Thunder, Westbrook then teamed up with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but again he failed. He then participated in an unsuccessful experiment with James Harden for the Houston Rockets in the 2019-20 season.
Many wondered if Westbrook could ever win a title when they saw how he failed to reach his title goals with Durant, George and Anthony, and then Harden. If he couldn’t win rings with one of those superstars, then something is wrong with him as a teammate.
However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in 2020 that this misunderstanding actually bothered Westbrook.
I understand he is very concerned about the assumptions about what kind of teammate he is and the criticism he has received here in recent months. Being a good teammate for a year is important to him, Wojnarowski said on Get Up in December 2020. I think the guys who played with him during his career consider him one of the most dedicated [teammates], a guy who would do almost anything for the guys around him or the guys in the organization.
Beal completely rejects the claim that Westbrook is a bad teammate.
Beal, who just finished his first season with Westbrook, spoke with Complex Magazine, while preparing for the Olympics, and he had nothing but praise for the 2016-17 NBA MVP.
It’s so weird because you’ve been competing with him for so long and you don’t understand where he gets so much energy, so much drive every night, Beal said, according to Complex. That’s what I like best. His mental strength, when his body wasn’t right, when he wasn’t in a good mood, when he was injured for maybe more than six months, was very important for him to get through that period and continue to do what he did and have the impact that he had on our team. That says a lot.
Beal then signed with Westbrook as his teammate.
I think the biggest misconception about him is that he’s a teammate, Beal said, per Complex. He loves his teammates. He only wants what’s best for everyone. He stands his ground and guards his teammates. He’ll always wear it like that. And I respect him for it. He is able to accept criticism and strives to improve his teammates.
Beal added that Westbook’s temperament is infectious.
Everything he does is loud. You can feel his presence, he said in the Complex. You respect the MVP, you respect his resume. … He is a great leader and everything he does, as I keep saying, is said out loud so you can feel it.
Beal and Westbrook only played one season together, but the Wizards got much better with them in the 2020-21 season.
After missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, with a 25-47 record in 2019-20 and a disappointing start in 2020-21, Westbrook and Beal helped the Wizards reach the playoffs last season. Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, an NBA record (and record of his career) of 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds. Beal, meanwhile, scored a career-high 31.3 points per game.
Beal, Westbrook and the Wizards may no longer be contenders for the championship in 2020-21. But Washington has improved dramatically and has shown how dangerous he can be in the coming seasons, especially if management adds another All-Star level player or two.
Westbrook’s skills on the field – and as a teammate – have also played a major role in the Wizards’ success. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him.
No, Westbrook has yet to win a championship in his career, but it’s time to put the misconception that Russ is a bad teammate behind us; Russell Westbrook is indeed a great teammate.
Statistics provided by Basketball Reference
COMPARED TO: LeBron James and Dwayne Wade give Bradley Beal a welcome to the NBA moment: Gotta Long Way to Go
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