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Welcome to Russell Westbrook's New Reality

In the third quarter of Russell Westbrook's first game against the thunder finally felt real after about seven minutes. James Harden did a pick-and-roll with Clint Capela at the top of the 3-point line to grab the attention of all five OKC defenders before taking down a soft swimmer typical of Capela's leadership hands. But not this time. Behind the enemy lines on the base line was a familiar enemy who became a friend. It was Russell Westbrook, decked in crimson and slipping into a light alley. A point guard, accustomed to having the world on his shoulders, suddenly camps in the corner like a wing and ends a blow like a big one. Welcome to Russ & # 39; new reality. Welcome to our new reality.

After eleven seasons in Oklahoma City overriding the laws of the traditional point guard game, Westbrook, just two weeks before 31

, looked at his former team Monday night from a new perspective. The irony, I imagine, was hard to miss. He stared back into the void left on his departure and saw two figures representing the type of player he could never and would never become. In Chris Paul, the thunder acquired Westbrook's philosophical antithesis, an archetypal star point guard. In Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC's prospective franchise player, the Thunder landed Westbrook's physical antithesis: a lithe, spindly playmaker acting in unique time signature and whose most extraordinary sporting talent is to lack his arm explosiveness. For this reason, OKC's Westbrook antidote does not seem to find a passable facsimile for what he brought into play, but to recalibrate the thunder's understanding of "normal" after watching a iconoclast him for more than a decade made something special.

During this period, Westbrook moved from buddy to almighty provider and tragic hero drawn by time and perhaps stubbornness. But he was always Russ; therefore always a reflection of the thunder. That Russness this franchise-defining existence of relinquishing the team – to defend against it – is about as existential as in the regular NBA season, let alone the first full week.

The highs and lows in Westbrook's time in Oklahoma City have meant that almost every game could be interpreted as a classic Russ game. In fact, Westbrook celebrated a vintage night against his old team: 21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, and a high of 19 in a 116-112 Rockets win. It was not always picturesque. it's never with Russ. He missed his first five shots. He missed rabbits hoping to see SGA. But there were classic moments that span the entire franchise vision of the Thunders: in the second half, Westbrook effortlessly met in a duel and overtook the young, raw athletes Hamidou Diallo and rookie Darius Bazley, as OKC has shown a tendency to draw, since Russ himself cracked the jackpot. He has a technique for talking shit right in the beginner's face. Life changes instantly.

In a sense, Russ as a rocket is a common business. For the twelfth time in a row, he has asked himself how he wants to change his game, how he wants to turn his groundbreaking intensity into something tastier. The teammates and uniforms may have changed, but in the end, a new squadron of Russell Westbrook poses the same old questions of identity and customization. The old questions did not give new answers. We dream of a Westbrook who is in control, but conventional ideas of "under control" are inappropriate for the way Westbrook behaves. What does it mean to play in oneself when there is a fire in itself that burns twice as hot as what is displayed on the surface? How do you change that?

Change did not look like change at all in the meantime. If anything, the Russ Russets have provided a runway (and the right infrastructure) for him to be himself. Westbrook, in turn, has put coach Mike D & # 39; Antoni's career-critical offensive mentality to the test: Six seconds or less, baby. In three games, the Rockets are playing faster than ever faster than any other team D & # Antoni has ever coached. In the first three games, the Rockets have an average of 107.7 possessions per 48 minutes. Compared to the average of the regular season last year, 9.3 possessions are added every 48 minutes. Tempo is a way to measure the speed of a team. Time of ownership is another. When they came into the game, the Rockets led the league in the lowest ball possession time and took according to Inpredictable only 12.3 seconds of the shooting time per offensive ball possession. Thus they were the most appropriate offensive and surpassed the league average by one and a half seconds (and the foul offense of the cavaliers at three).

D'Antoni stomps James Harden and Westbrook around large parts of the game to make sure there is always at least one elite playmaker on the floor, creating a stylistic Jekyll-and-Hyde situation that can lead to whiplash , It depends on the individual genius of each star. "James Harden is the best half-court player I've ever seen," GM Daryl Morey said on the team's media day. "And then maybe Russell is the best transition player, one of the best of times. If you put these things together, which I think we can do, then you have something very special.

When Westbrook leads the show with Harden on the bench, the Rockets try to give full throttle to take advantage of Russ's grab-and-go mentality. All the hallmarks of a team led by Russia are present: the defenses that immediately turn into outlier opportunities; the cotton balls; The Crosscourt whip goes to the shooters in the corner as Westbrook stops his hyperloop sweep. But there are also early signs that Russ is showing something more. With just under four minutes into the second quarter of the match on Monday night against the thunder, Westbrook stormed from top to right on Harden and hardened a dribble handoff situation between two MVPs. When two supermassive black holes merge, their collision creates gravitational waves that move through space and time. When Westbrook and Harden act in a two-man game, their collective gravity does something terribly similar.

In the years of Westbrook, I collected quotes explaining his job and how he defined the position. Given that his approach to the game deviates from the positional norms, it is instructive to even get a vague impression of how Russ sees his place on the ground. His job is to go out and compete. It's about getting to the ball in front of the man next to him. It's all about doing. What do you give the guy who had everything on his shoulders? A break. A new perspective. It will take time for Westbrook to get used to the place he has granted himself, just as it will take some time for his teammates to know where to station them. In most years D & # 39; Antoni seems to know what he needs to do to get the most out of his point guard (s). "We'll let him be Westbrook, that's our policy," D & Antoni told USA Today . "It's not up to us to change his game. He played well. We only want him at this level.

Westbrook was asked to change his game throughout his career. This perseverance can feel like a buffer preparing for an indefinite collapse. Westbrook's tense, restrictive style forces viewers to focus on the present moment, but getting in touch with Russ in all its uniqueness means having fatalistic notions about his future. What makes him such a compelling figure in basketball is the limited lifespan of his specific powers. Westbrook pretends to try to escape his own mind. He has been successful throughout his career, but we believe we know how it will end.

Eventually, the wear on his body will minimize his athletic will. One day the cotton ball becomes coarse-grained. One day, all the extra energy that flows into his crossovers and goes to the rim will not attract the attention of three or four defenders. One day, the anger he seems driven on will no longer manifest on the hardwood and ferment on the bench. This foresight can be a damper, but it can also establish the experience of watching Russ right now. To make Westbrook 2019 and beyond Westbrook is to sit in the present and marvel that neither time nor place has changed the foundations of one of the most intriguing NBA players of all time.

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