OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook is reaching historic heights on his triple-double binge and his Oklahoma City teammates are flourishing.
The Thunder’s dynamic point guard has entered rarified air with six consecutive triple-doubles – the most since Michael Jordan’s seven straight in 1989. He’s taken the leading role in the early-season show that is the NBA, which is enjoying a smorgasbord of hits: Klay Thompson’s 60 points, the Spurs road winning streak, Anthony Davis’ one-man band in New Orleans and James Harden, who will bring his own brand of showtime to Oklahoma City on Friday.
Russell’s performance stands above them all, and no one has benefited more than his suddenly sharp-shooting teammates.
Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Domantas Sabonis and even defensive specialist Andre Roberson are all are shooting at least 50 percent from the field during the streak.
”He’s not just making himself better, he’s making everybody better around him – his teammates, his coaches, this organization,” Kanter said. ”That’s what a special player does.”
Westbrook has looked to get his teammates engaged early. He often has more than five assists in the first quarter, then looks for his own shot later. The approach is working: He is averaging an MVP-worthy 31.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists a game and has the Thunder rolling.
”It gives him an opportunity to see how he’s being guarded, how certain movement plays, screening action plays are being guarded,” coach Billy Donovan said. ”It allows him to gather that information and figure out what’s going to be open when we come back to that.”
Oladipo extended his deal with the Thunder earlier this season, and he cited Westbrook’s leadership and playmaking ability as key reasons. Playing alongside Westbrook, Oladipo is becoming the player the Thunder envisioned when they acquired him in an offseason trade with Orlando. He is averaging 17.7 points and shooting 50 percent during Westbrook’s run.
”I think he’s done a great job of listening to Russell,” Donovan said of Oladipo. ”Not listening to him about how he has to play, but listening to him about different things that he should be thinking about and that he should do. I think they both have created a good connection there, and I think they’re both playing off of each other fairly well.”
With Westbrook averaging double-digit assists, no one feels left out.
Many of Westbrook’s assists have come from bullet passes to Thunder big men Kanter and Adams. Kanter is averaging 15.2 points and shooting 60.3 percent during Westbrook’s streak while Adams is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 60.9 percent. And Sabonis, a rookie power forward often left open, has made 17 of 31 shots during the run.
”Before the games and after the practices, before the practices, we (Kanter and Adams) are working on those hot passes,” Kanter said. ”You never know when Russell’s going to pass, so you always have to look at the ball, look at Russ, read him. We’ve been working on it a lot.”
Westbrook is also helping Roberson, a defensive specialist for much of his career, find some offense. Because Westbrook is so explosive, teams are sometimes using their shooting guards to defend him. That leaves smaller players guarding the 6-foot-7 Roberson, who has scored in double figures three times during Westbrook’s triple-double surge.
”I just take what the game’s giving to me and try to help Russell as best I can,” Roberson said. ”If I have a smaller guy on me, it’s easier to finish and I can go and crash a little bit more. I just go out there and take advantage of the game.”
Kanter knows he’s a part of something rare.
”After 10 years, 20 years from now, I’m going to look back and say I played with that dude,” Kanter said of Westbrook. ”I’m going to tell my kids, maybe my grandkids one day, `You know what? I played with Russell Westbrook.”’
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP