D.A.: Will Westbrook Be Remembered As A Modern-Day Nique? 

Russell Westbrook is one of the most mesmerizing players in the NBA, D.A. says, but it hasn't translated to postseason success

Damon Amendolara
April 18, 2019 - 8:49 am

Any NBA child of the '80s loved Dominique Wilkins. He was all too easy to adore. His slam dunks scraped the sky. His athleticism jumped off the TV like a cartoon. That stylistically radical Hawks logo looked like a backwards Pac-Man. The Omni seemed like a Tetris block landed on Atlanta

C'mon, the "Looking Glass" montage by Yanni in the NBA Superstars VHS we all hugged tightly as kids was immortal. He lept into the sky and stayed there, lingering, waiting for the ball to bounce off the rim, to stick it home with ferocity. He was a video game. The Human Highlight Reel. 

But it was a regular-season love affair because we all knew once the playoffs began he'd be exiting early. Those Hawks teams were no match for the powers of the East: the Celtics, Pistons and Bulls. They never got out of the second round. Nique's high-flying act was graceful, powerful and thrilling. But the team wasn't good enough to do anything substantial, and he wasn't good enough to overcome that. 

Which is why I scratch my head and wonder if we're watching the same story unfold in Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook is dynamic. He's one of the most mesmerizing players in the league to watch on a nightly basis. We snickered at the idea of Oscar Roberston's season-long triple-double happening in today's NBA with complex defenses, advanced scouting, longer faster defenders, and deep film analysis. Westbrook matched it... three seasons in a row.

But after a terrible Game 2 in Portland – in an easy 20-point victory by the Blazers to take a 2-0 series lead – Westbrook is idling again. He was downright awful in a crucial spot. He coughed up six turnovers and shot a horrendous 5-for-20 in a game that could've applied some pressure to the higher-seeded Blazers. Another playoff series, another weak effort by the Thunder. For as wonderful as Westbrook is during the regular season, playing with fury and vitriol, power and speed, it all seems to dissipate in the postseason. And when he does harness that production it's not enough to elevate his team. 

With Kevin Durant and James Harden by his side, Westbrook and the Thunder marched all the way to the NBA Finals. They may have lost to LeBron James and the Heat, but we all expected that to be the first of many trips for OKC. Harden was deemed too expensive for the front office, but even without him the Thunder went to the West Finals three more times. Memorably, the Thunder even had a 3-1 series lead on the greatest regular-season team ever, the Warriors in '16. 

Since KD left for Golden State, Westbrook has been a far cry from playing in June. He's been eliminated in the first round the past two seasons, and now is down 0-2 in another. Without Durant, the Thunder has won three playoff games in three years. While Paul George is not the caliber of player KD is, he's no slouch as a running mate with Westbrook the last two years. And in the first year without KD, Westbrook couldn't figure out a way to get the best from Victor Oladipo, who immediately grew into an All-Star the following season in Indiana. 

Westbrook is not a great shooter, and it's been glaring in this series so far. Most experts felt the Thunder would knock off Portland even though the Blazers were the higher seed. Now, OKC has to win four of the next five to avoid another first round defeat. It would be one thing if the Thunder were running into buzzsaws like the Warriors. But first-round departures at the hands of the Jazz last year and now the Blazers are not that. 

It's exhilarating to watch Westbrook barrel to the hole, smash into defenders, roar after another twisting, turning layup in traffic, or a no-look pass to a wide-open shooter. But the facts are stubborn. All of that wonderment in the regular season evaporates in the playoffs. And I can't help but think there's a whole new generation of fans are unwittingly experiencing exactly what it was like to love Nique thirty years ago. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.