Heat brace for visit by Westbrook, Thunder (Dec 27, 2016)
MIAMI -- The Traveling Westbrook Show hits South Beach on Tuesday night.
There was a time when the name Russell in basketball meant only one thing: Bill Russell, the Hall of Fame center for the Boston Celtics.
For today's NBA, though, that name can only mean Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard who is setting the NBA on fire this season by averaging a triple-double: 31.7 points, 10.9 assists and 10.4 rebounds.
He leads all NBA players in scoring and is No. 1 in rebounding among guards. He is second in assists heading into the Tuesday contest against the Miami Heat.
Westbrook has 51 career triple-doubles, which is No. 1 in the NBA among active players. For perspective, consider that in 29 seasons, the entire Heat franchise has just 22 triple-doubles.
"I've never seen a point guard so athletic," Heat counterpart Goran Dragic said Monday. "He's an unbelievable athlete. He can jump so high, grab those rebounds. He does everything for them."
In the first season since fellow superstar Kevin Durant fled as a free agent to the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook is stamping his name as an MVP favorite.
Already this season, Westbrook has graced the cover of GQ Magazine, Sports Illustrated and SLAM. National publications such as USA Today and The New York Times sent reporters to cover him.
Westbrook can add to his exploits on Tuesday night, when his Thunder (19-12) faces the struggling Miami Heat (10-21), who are just 5-11 at home.
The Heat had a chance to draft Westbrook with the second overall pick in 2008 but instead selected Michael Beasley, who has bounced around the NBA as a relative bust.
Had Miami drafted Westbrook, maybe the Big Three era with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade doesn't happen exactly the same. Who knows how history would have been altered.
The only thing for certain is that Miami would love to have Westbrook, who could be the second NBA player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season. Oscar Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and a league-best 11.4 assists in 1961-62.
"I just go out and have fun," Westbrook said after the Thunder beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-100 on Sunday night. "I don't know if it's the most fun I've ever had, but it's definitely at the top because of the group of guys we have. Everybody is so unselfish. Everybody is willing to do great things. Everybody is willing to get better. We're young and blessed to be able to play this game. You can't do nothing but have fun."
Westbrook had so much energy on Sunday that he nearly tore a young fan's hand off in celebration. After another spectacular assist and a Minnesota timeout, Westbrook excitedly swung his right hand to meet those of a group of fans in the first row.
It was all good, though. No one was hurt. After all, Westbrook can do no wrong this season, or so it seems.
Many of Westbrook's assists come on passes to 7-foot center Steven Adams and 6-11 backup post Enes Kanter. Adams is averaging 11.5 points while shooting 58.4 percent from the floor. Kanter is averaging 12.8 points and shooting 55.5 percent.
A third under-25 promising big man on the Thunder roster is 6-11 starting power forward Domantas Sabonis, the 11th player taken in the 2016 NBA Draft. The rookie, who is the son of Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, has a versatile skill set and is averaging 6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Shooting guard Victor Oladipo is second on the team in scoring (16.1 points per game), but he has an injured right wrist and has missed seven straight games. He is expected back soon but may not be quite ready to face Miami.
That would be a break for the Heat, who can use all the help available, cosmic or otherwise.
The Heat have two established standouts, center Hassan Whiteside and Dragic. However, they need better performances on the wings, which is why Justise Winslow's 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday was such a positive for Miami.
Winslow, Miami's first-round pick out of Duke in 2015, is just 20 years old. There is a huge upside with Winslow, who is tough, smart and dedicated to his craft. He plays terrific defense but has yet to develop a consistent jump shot.
Perhaps Thursday's effort -- Miami's most recent game before breaking for Christmas -- is a sign of good things to come for Winslow.
"We need that," Heat forward James Johnson said of Winslow. "I want (Winslow) to keep playing like this, with this kind of confidence. If he does, it will help us in the long run."