By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook made it perfectly clear in his record-setting season that he can do pretty much anything on a basketball court.
But he can’t do everything.
Westbrook’s jaw-dropping effort this year included the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season with 42, breaking the mark Oscar Robertson set in 1962. He won the scoring title and averaged a triple-double along the way. He posted three more triple-doubles in the playoffs, but the Thunder ended up losing their first-round series to the Houston Rockets. Now, it’s up to management to get him more help.
Westbrook said he won’t focus on things he can’t control.
“My job is not to worry about who comes in, or who’s on the team, who’s here to help, who’s not here to help,” Westbrook said Wednesday, hours after scoring 47 points in a Game 5 loss . “My job is to come out and play the cards that you’re (dealt). I honestly thought we had a team that could win, just because of all the intangibles we have.”
Even after Kevin Durant chose to go to Golden State as a free agent, Westbrook thought the Thunder could contend in the powerful Western Conference. Oklahoma City won 47 games and made the playoffs despite losing a four-time scoring champion and former league MVP. But it wasn’t enough, not by a long shot.
Victor Oladipo averaged nearly 16 points per game during the regular season. But he struggled in the playoffs, causing questions about Westbrook’s supporting cast to crop up again. Big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams had solid seasons, too, but both struggle to defend perimeter shooters. Taj Gibson was a veteran stabilizer after his trade from Chicago, but now he’s a free agent.
When Westbrook was on the bench during the playoffs, the Thunder struggled to keep up with the Rockets— a hard truth that Westbrook pushed back on in the interests of trying to keep the team focused.
Westbrook averaged 34.6 minutes per game four years after a serious knee injury. There were concerns from the outside about how much responsibility Westbrook carried, but coach Billy Donovan was never worried.
“Everybody was saying the same thing the whole entire year after the first ten games of the season: ‘Can you keep this up, can you keep this up, can you keep this up?'” Donovan said. “He’s played the same way he’s always played. And people think usage rate is wearing him down. Usage rate has nothing to do with wearing him down.”
Even without Durant, Westbrook helped Oklahoma City games remain a hot ticket, home or away. He got cheers and MVP chants on the road late in the season.
Westbrook is still looking at himself. He said he could be a better shooter and could find more ways to make the game easier for his teammates. He also wants to continue to grow as a leader.
“There’s games where I can look at the film and see how I can get my teammates better, making sure my leadership is always at top tier,” he said. “The Jordans, the Kobes — their leadership was always at the top, regardless of how they were playing.”
He didn’t achieve his ultimate goal, and that made it more difficult for him to appreciate his individual accomplishments.
“Whenever I don’t accomplish the thing that I want to accomplish, and that’s winning a championship, I don’t reflect on (individual accomplishments),” he said. “Maybe down the line. But for me, that’s (winning a title) what’s most important.”
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