No 6: What If He Hadn’t Been An Athlete
Let’s not get crazy and say he would have been just as famous without sports in his life: that’s downright absurd (although not impossible). However, there is reason to think he would have done something interesting with his life if he had never picked up a basketball. Good grades (he reportedly was accepted by Stanford based on academics alone), a legendary work ethic, good looks, a bubbly (off-court at least) personality that draws in people from all walks of life, and the perspective gained from growing up as a black man in South Los Angeles are just a few of the traits that would probably spell success for Russ no matter his career path. The most likely possibility: a fashion designer who models his own clothes.
No 5: What If James Harden Had Never Been Traded
Would the Thunder have multiple titles by now with a lineup of Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Ibaka-Random Title-Chasing Veteran, or would the ball-sharing issues drive them apart? Only James Harden knows if he would have been satisfied continuing to be a third banana and playing off the ball, like he did during his tenure with the Thunder, but it didn’t seem to bother him too much at the time. As the NBA has migrated toward smaller lineups and three-point shooting, it is hard to imagine that the flexible four-man super lineup (to be paired with a guard or big man depending on the opponent) of Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Ibaka wouldn’t have been perfect, despite their defensive liabilities at guard. How differently would Westbrook be viewed if he scored less points and had (way) less triple-doubles, but had won a title or two? We’re guessing even more favorably than he is now, which is saying a lot.
No 4: What If He Had Been Picked #2 Overall By Miami
Derrick Rose was the #1 pick in the 2008 draft. Westbrook went #4 to Seattle (now OKC). The Heat took eventual bust Michael Beasley at #2. If they had instead pulled the trigger on Westbrook (admittedly a slim possibility, because the debate at the time was Beasley or Rose), they would have created a situation where Westbrook would have most likely ended up playing with Wade, LeBron, and Bosh just as he was entering his prime in 2010-11. Either that, or Westbrook would have been so good during his first two seasons (and taken so many shots) that LeBron and/or Bosh wouldn’t have signed in Miami.
We’re guessing the former would have been more likely, as Westbrook would have gotten less time and shots in Miami than he did in OKC (thanks to Wade dominating the ball and the general anti-rookie vibe passed down from Pat Riley), and his presence wouldn’t have been enough to dissuade LeBron or Bosh from signing. So we would have gotten the Big 3 plus a seasoned Russell Westbrook for at least two years (until his rookie deal ran out). Not quite sure how that would have worked on a team that ended up suffering from ball-sharing issues of it’s own, but it sure as hell would have been fun to watch.
No 3: What If He Grew Up in Spain Playing Soccer
Holy shit this would have been fun. Imagine the same length, athleticism, intelligence, and competitive spirit, except if he grew up attending La Masia, the famed Barcelona youth academy that is widely considered the best in the world, or Real Madrid’s (similar) version. Westbrook would have been developed into the perfect soccer machine. Technically you can’t teach soccer touch – kind of like shooting touch in basketball – but Spain comes the closest to pulling it off, and even if Russ never developed the world class touch needed to play in the field, at a minimum you are looking at a world class goalie or central defender. But something tells us he would have picked it up just fine, and at that point it is just a matter of how good he would have been and what position he would have played.
The most athletic striker ever, scoring goals every-which-way and at-will? Why not? How about as a Nemanja Matic-style defensive midfielder who covers more ground than a Verizon service map? Hell, he could probably do that NOW (with a little training). Or as a rangy winger bum-rushing the goal from every conceivable angle and striking fear deep in the hearts of Gucci-wearing coaches across the continent of Europe.
No 2: What If His Dad Was Richard Williams
This one may be the most fun to imagine. Look at that photo and imagine a tennis racket in his hand, ready to smash a ball down the throat of some poor opponent. In case you weren’t aware, Richard is the tennis-mad father of Venus and Serena who turned them into champions on the streets of Compton. Russell Westbrook grew up a few years later and a few miles west of the Williams’s, but imagine if Westbrook had grown up as their younger brother. Is there a lob shot he couldn’t get to? Or more accurately, could anyone lob a shot over his outstretched arms and still keep it in play?
Westbrook would clearly cover more ground than any tennis player ever and has the quick reflexes and athleticism to return almost any shot. As far as hitting skill, tennis is a little more scientific than soccer or basketball: you can teach touch through repeated practice. It is basically just a matter of hitting enough balls, and you can be damn sure that if Richard Williams was his father, that Westbrook would have hit more than enough.
No 1: What If He Had a Jump Shot
The only hypothetical on this list with a shot at actually happening (although at this point, he probably is who he is), it is also the most tantalizing to basketball fans. What if Russell Westbrook had Ray Allen’s jumper? Just how unstoppable would he be? Would he be the best player ever? How many points would he average?
It’s almost like the basketball gods gave him (and LeBron) everything besides a killer outside shot because it would have been unfair to everyone else otherwise. Westbrook’s inability to hit threes hasn’t made him modest about shooting them. He is currently the 5th worst three point shooter in NBA history among players with at least 1500 attempts with a 30.2%. Imagine if that was 42%. Not only would the extra makes give him more points, but they would cause defenders to play closer, making Westbrook that much more devastating going to the hole.