OKLAHOMA CITY — In the absence of departed superstar Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook has taken over completely not only as the Thunder’s leader on the court but as the face of the franchise off the court. It was in that latter role that Westbrook spoke out regarding the social and political climate in a decidedly red state on Thursday night when he was inducted into the Oklahoma sports hall of fame.
“I thought the speech was really remarkable,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Coming out of the election, there has been a lot of divide, a lot of split. Russell acknowledged that . . . It was a message about trying to bring everybody closer together and creating an awareness and recognition that there are things going on socially inside of our country that are divisive, hurtful and that cause problems. I thought what he did was fantastic.”
After a triple-double (30 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) in Friday night’s 124-105 victory over the Nets, Westbrook is nearly averaging a triple-double with 31.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 10.1 assists. Only shooting guard Victor Oladipo has emerged as a reliable secondary scorer.
“He understands that because of personnel changes, his game has had to change,” Donovan said. “I think he’s impacted the game in a lot of different ways. He’s doing it by rebounding, with assists, with his scoring, he’s made jumps defensively . . . Getting a chance to see him do that has been very, very impressive.”
As a Long Island native, Donovan is well-acquainted with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, whose family is from Northport. “We grew up in basically the same area of New York,” Donovan said. “His older brother, Mike, and I worked together at Kentucky and developed a great, close relationship. I played with Kenny in parks in New York. It was great to see his career, playingwise, unfold like it did. And then getting a chance at the NBA level in coaching.” . . . Atkinson said Friday that point guard Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) was re-evaluated. “He’s shooting and doing stuff,” Atkinson said. “I just think he’s on our timetable, progressing well.”