On Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks will encounter what for so many years was his opponent's undesirable problem. He will for the first time compete against — and not with — Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, a transcendent superstar who defies convention at his position and, lately, the statistical norms of NBA history.
Westbrook has been described before as a walking triple-double, but never before has that nickname been more appropriate. The five-time All-NBA selection has been on a historic tear so far this season, averaging a triple-double through 19 games.
Westbrook is putting up 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.3 rebounds per contest. Those numbers aren't far off from the 1961-62 campaign of Oscar Roberston, who that year held a per game line of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists to become the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season.
Westbrook has reached a new level statistically this year without having to share shot attempts with Kevin Durant, who moved on to join the Warriors in free agency. Westbrook is currently taking a career-high 23.7 shots per game. He leads the league in field goal attempts (451) and has 60 more than the next guy, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans.
This week, Brooks looked back at coaching Westbrook, including the early days of getting to know him before the Thunder made him the fourth overall pick in 2008.
"I was there when we brought him into his pre-draft workout. My first thought when we were working him through that workout was 'thank goodness I'm not an NBA point guard anymore' because there was no way I can stay in front of this guy. He was 19 years old and played nothing but two-guard in college at UCLA… but he averaged 15, 5 and 5 and that's not easy to do. Only a handful of guys, rookie point guards, were able to do that," Brooks recalled.
It was clear early in his career that Westbrook was not only a special athlete, a force of nature the league had not seen before at the point guard position, but that he was unusually versatile. He could rebound exceptionally well for his position, which has allowed him to become such a triple-double machine.
"The rebounding numbers that he's putting up now, I didn't anticipate that he would be able to average over 10, but he averaged five. He's been the best rebounding point guard in the league for a long time," Brooks said. "Russell is averaging a triple-double in nearly a quarter of the season. Nobody thought that there would be another with Oscar Robertson-type numbers in this league."
Brooks and Westbrook went through a lot with each other. They made the NBA Finals once and the Western Conference Finals five different times. Brooks was fired by the Thunder following the 2014-15 season and is now on the other side, but he has no ill-will towards his former point guard.
"I'm happy that he's successful. He took a lot of criticism, well we took a lot of criticism but some was probably deserving, but most wasn't. Give him all the credit. He's worked his butt off to be the player that he is and he's deserving what he's getting right now," Brooks said.
[RELATED: Gregg Popovich on consulting with Brooks]