Russell Westbrook returned from knee surgery Thursday, just in time for the match up with defending champions, the Miami Heat. This game is on many fans’ radar for some obvious reasons. For one, it’s the marquee match up between two MVP caliber players, who happen to actually enjoy being in competition with one another. The other is to see how will Westbrook work with the team since he has been gone for 27 games. There are many who think Westbrook needs to adjust his game and be more like Scottie Pippen and less like Michael Jordan.
The Thunder ended up losing Thursday’s game to the Heat. Westbrook looked like the alpha dog he is. He scored 16 points and played with high energy, which was vintage Westbrook. Since it is his first game back, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt. The issue is not about Westbrook’s scoring. He does that very well. It’s the other things that he can add to his game so that his whole team can benefit, especially Kevin Durant.
In the heyday of the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was establishing himself as an all-time great. He was a living legend dominating the court unlike any two guard had before him or since. Some believe he is the greatest player to lay hold of a basketball. But en route to six championships, Jordan got tons of help from Scottie Pippen. Pippen is one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. There were many things Pippen did well; versatility should be his middle name, but the best thing he ever did was to support Jordan. Now that’s not a dig. It’s a compliment.
What you had in the Jordan/Pippen tandem was a perfect team. Jordan was the unstoppable force and Pippen the immovable object. Where Jordan would score the ball, Pippen ran the offense and kept things fluid. In a real sense, it was like Pippin allowed Jordan to be more Jordan-like than if he didn’t have Pippen backing him up.
This is the same opportunity for OKC. Durant is establishing himself as an all-time great, a living legend who can fill the bucket up unlike anyone since…well, Jordan. What Durant will need to continue his own personal arch to greatness is for Westbrook to channel his inner Pippen and get out of the business of trying to be Jordan.
Russell Westbrook is a great player, but he is not Kevin Durant, just like Pippen was not Jordan. The Thunder may not survive Durant being so dominant while Westbrook goes toward the hoop like a rabid dog after a bone. OKC needs fluid movement to their offense that does not always happen when the two are on the floor together. During the 2012 championship run against the Heat, it seemed as if the un-dynamic duo took turns trying to outscore the Heat. Two on five. No wonder the series ended the way it did. If the Thunder are to ascend to a championship level, Russell Westbrook is going to have to adjust his mindset and his game. OKC fans should send Westbrook a tweet that reads, “Russell be more like Pippen and less like Jordan, #weneedaring.”
Editorial by Tony Bowers