In the list of unlikeliest sources to be able to seemingly get through to Russell Westbrook this season, Shaquille O’Neal would seemingly rank quite highly. While he’s long had a career as an “analyst” on NBA on TNT, that term is used very loosely as his most common contributions are telling new players how much he doesn’t believe in them and demanding big men to simply score and rebound more, and that only comes between jabs at Charles Barkley.
But in a rare of genuine analysis and advice, it was Shaq who may have been a catalyst for Westbrook’s recent run of good form.
In reality, there are any number of things that could have led to Westbrook’s improvement, most likely his benching against the Indiana Pacers and the subsequent conversations he had with head coach Frank Vogel. But it was a moment he had with O’Neal that had a positive impact.
During the Lakers’ game in Orlando, Shaq, sitting courtside, gave advice to Westbrook that he shared on NBA on TNT last week.
"I don't like to see people come at my man Russ like that."@SHAQ talks about his courtside conversation with Russell Westbrook at the Lakers-Magic game pic.twitter.com/reJSqESpJa— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 26, 2022
After practice on Tuesday, Westbrook talked about the details of the conversation, which mirrors the details given by Shaq.
“It was just talking about changing speeds and different things,” Westbrook said. “When somebody like Shaq is seeing and watching the game, I’m always big on listening to my elders and listening to the ones that were before me. Shaq was giving me some good advice about changing speeds at different times coming up the floor, which was very helpful not just in that game but as I watch myself moving forward and trying to continue doing that the rest of the year.”
Statistically, since that game, Westbrook has improved, averaging 22.8 points, 6.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds over the last five games. His efficiency, always a focus of his game, has also improved as he’s shooting 54.9% from the field, 36.8% from the 3-point line and averaging just 3.8 turnovers in that span.
“Just taking my time, focusing on what I can control,” Westbrook said of what’s changed for him since that Indiana game, “focusing on me and making sure I’m playing the right way, playing the right basketball, making the right plays. Trying to be effective and efficient along the way, that’s all that I’ve been focusing on throughout whatever many games it has been.”
There are so many variables that it’s hard to tell what is sustainable, what isn’t and what the cause of the good play was. Ultimately, it does come down to Westbrook himself and he’s always been a player that excels in the second half of seasons.
But if Shaq is part of the catalyst for the turnaround, you can add The Big Point Guard Whisperer to his list of nicknames.
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