With A Triple-Double Rivaling Robertson, Russell Westbrook Drives Oklahoma Thunder's Wins
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Time now for sports.
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CHANG: This NBA season is playing out in some expected ways. The Golden State Warriors are racking up wins. The Philadelphia 76ers are not. But the Thunder have been just jaw-dropping. Russell Westbrook is carrying his team to win after win with impressive performances on both ends of the court. Mike Pesca, host of "The Gist" podcast for Slate, joins us now. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hoping to give an impressive performance on this end of the mic. Hello.
CHANG: (Laughter) So what's going on with Westbrook?
PESCA: Well, let's set the scene. So his Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant takes an offer to move to those Warriors, who you mentioned, figuring, well, they set a record for most wins. Let's give them the best player. This leaves Oklahoma City - most people thought they wouldn't make the playoffs. They know Russell Westbrook's good, but he's only one man.
What he's doing is stretching the definition of only. He uses - there's a statistic usage percentage, so he will be involved in his team's plays more than any one in basketball; in fact, right now, more than anyone in the history of the NBA. Although he is second on the all-time list. It goes Kobe, Westbrook and Jordan in terms of having seasons where you have a bigger impact on your team on offense. And he's giving triple-doubles at a record pace. In fact, he could be the first NBA player to average a triple-double over a season since the great Oscar Robertson.
CHANG: OK, wait. Remind us - what exactly is a triple-double?
PESCA: The triple part is three statistics points. There's almost always one and then let's, say, rebounds and steals, and the double is you get double digits in those statistics. And it just shows a full player because a lot of players can score and also, remember, points, especially field goals, count double or possibly triple. But the small guards, they could get assists - hard for them to rebound. The big guys, they could rebound - hard for them to get assists. Russell Westbrook can do everything.
CHANG: So which part of the triple-double is the hardest for him?
PESCA: Well, I would say two things. Let's focus on which particular stat in terms of what he hasn't done before, though he is improving his game. Rebounding - now, Russell Westbrook is only 6'3". He's actually closer to 6'2" but you got to give everyone an inch or two in NBA hyperbole. He is great at court vision and knowledge and unbelievable athleticism. I hate using the word freakish, but if it ever applied, Russell Westbrook has freakish athleticism, and he is so lightning quick. So he chases down rebounds. He knows where they're going to go. He doesn't - he gets some rebounds in the air when we think of rebounds, you know, skying high to the glass. That's not unknown to his game.
But if any rebound sort of gets below eye level - boom - Russell Westbrook is on it. So I would say the rebounds, but maybe the hardest part is just the intensity and his style of play. When he was paired with Durant, people would say, well, he's so good and you can't stop him, but he's almost out of control. He's not out of control. He knows how to keep himself in control, but he is - goes so hard that he could get injured.
CHANG: Yeah. OK, so in the 20 seconds we have left, Westbrook, you know, he's great with his individual stats, but is this guy, like, a good teammate? Is he a ball hog, or does he actually try to lift the whole team?
PESCA: He is lifting the whole team. They are - well, maybe it's a little of both. I mean (laughter), the best play for the Thunder is give it to Westbrook or have Westbrook give an assist. And they're in number one - they're the number one team in their division right now, and that was so unexpected. He's a delightful player to watch, and with the statistical component, it's hard to keep your eyes off him.
CHANG: Mike Pesca hosts "The Gist" podcast. Great talking to you, Mike.
PESCA: Good talking to you, too.
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ICE CUBE: (Rapping) Called up the homies and I'm asking y'all, which park are y'all playing basketball? Get me on the court and I'm trouble. Last week, messed around and got a triple-double. Freakin' brothers every way like M.J. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.