Playing with a dominant one-man show like Russell Westbrook can be difficult for some. Such is life when dealing with an often-stubborn alpha male.
For example, Howard Beck wrote in July that Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State was largely due to frustrations with the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard.
But plenty of other players have managed to mesh and flourish with the NBA’s most implosive and explosive star.
Current OKC guard Victor Oladipo shoots much more effectively when he’s on the floor with Westbrook, according to stats collected from nbawowy.com. When paired with the Thunder All-Star, Oladipo hits over 50 percent of his shots and scores 1.22 points per possession. Those same numbers plummet to 35.8 percent and 0.87 points per possession with Westbrook on the bench.
Oklahoma City was without Oladipo for Tuesday night’s 114-95 drubbing at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. Westbrook “struggled” without his team’s only real co-scorer, going 7-of-19 from the field for 20 points, six boards and six assists.
A similar disparity is visible with center Steven Adams. He shoots over 58 percent when paired with Westbrook and 50 percent without him. That helps explain why the Kiwi star has played only 43 minutes this season without Russ.
Not every Thunder player enjoys the same statistical bump.
Specialists Anthony Morrow and Enes Kanter actually post better numbers without Westbrook, but the numbers won’t sway their opinions. They still credit Westbrook for their improvement and growth.
“The obvious is him being able to penetrate and draw attention and be able to kick out,” Morrow said. “He’s helped me to evolve my shot and get it off faster.”
A player of Westbrook’s caliber, with his ability to break down defenses, can open opportunities for his colleagues. This has made Morrow, for one, focus on the finer points of his game.
“More footwork, getting off screens, spacing the floor, being where I’m supposed to be 100 pecent of the time, because I know when the ball is coming,” he said.
Morrow signed with the Thunder in 2014 as a free agent. Oklahoma City began training camp as a popular NBA title contender but ended camp with a rash of injuries that lingered the entire season. He and Westbrook didn’t take the court together until late November that season.
“I think my first year here, we really got really good chemistry even though we had a lot of injuries,” Morrow said. “Me and him was almost forced to play together because we had so many guys hurt.”
Morrow is in his ninth NBA season and with his sixth franchise. He’s had stops in Golden State, New Jersey, Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans and has played with several All-Stars.
But he puts Westbrook in a different category.
“I never played with a dude that dynamic before,” Morrow said. “So I think my game changed once we got on the same page and I realized like ‘yo, it’s different.’ He kinda motivated me to become even a better pro myself just by playing with him.”
Morrow’s improvement since joining Westbrook and the Thunder isn’t necessarily reflected by a statistic. He refined the form and release of his jump shot last season, while he’s shown the ability to put the ball on the floor more …