Russell Westbrook won’t win the MVP, but he is the only player we really need to watch right now. I’ll clarify that statement by first pointing out how great Stephen Curry is. Bear with me.
Stephen Curry is playing the game on easy mode right now. Go to YouTube and you might find any number of videos with trick shots and fancy ball-handling tricks, but what we get to see from Steph every night isn’t a compilation of the best takes. You won’t find any outtake videos of Steph trying to do a move 30 times before nailing it. He does moves we wouldn’t even try in a pick-up game, and he executes them fluidly at the highest level of competition. He does it like that is how the game is meant to be played.
This isn’t some showcase, teams are trying to win these games. And Steph is playing with them. He is a virtuoso talent that calls to mind the likes of Drazen Petrovic, and even “Pistol” Pete Maravich. No player in the NBA makes it look more effortless than Curry right now. It’s as if he has to raise the degree of difficulty on his shots just so he doesn’t get bored. He is Jamal Crawford fully realized.
Then there is Russell Westbrook. Something else entirely.
Russ is the physical embodiment of the id. He plays with a ferocity that forces us to reconsider the notion of “playing the right way” as something akin to neutering.
I suspect that many of us who used to relish in watching Russ play in the past did so with the same kind of pleasure one might take in watching the spectacle of a runaway train. But this train is like Snowpiercer right now. If Steph has made the game look too easy, Russ is his antithesis. Nothing Russ is doing even seems possible.
Injury is supposed to be the great equalizer. It wasn’t too long ago that you might have made the argument that Derrick Rose was as good an athlete, if not better, than Westbrook. Those days are gone. An injury would make any man, any animal, cautious. But not Russ. Watching him go careening from baseline to baseline, you get the feeling the same notion of career longevity that haunts Rose would get only a trademark glare from Westrook.
Russ just plays. He doesn’t work any angles. Russ is the angle.
Russ will play the game like this until he collapses into a crumpled heap of dust on the hardwood.
Russ is neither man nor beast. He is The Nothing.
Russ is this anime from the old MTV Liquid Television series.
Russ is the stuff of our most hidden dreams. Lying there in our subconscious, he is the apex predator we want to be. Curry, for all his virtuosity, is what we settle for when we can’t be Russ. Because no one can be Russ but Russ.
Truth is, to see the best of Steph Curry, you merely need to tune into SportsCenter, but everything about the way Russell Westbrook plays (and succeeds) at basketball is singular. It must be experienced in full.
I don’t know what this means for the game. I just know that I have to watch every second. WE have to watch this together as a shared experience. It couldn’t possibly last for much longer.
REN HSIEH | @renhsieh
Ren Hsieh is the Editor-in-Chief of Dat Winning.