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The obvious answer here is LeBron James. Coming off a dominant MVP season and his first NBA championship, the King seems the most natural option to emerge as the Alpha-dog on a team full of superstars. However, as you may have noticed (say, when he walked away from any chance at ever being recognized as the GOAT to join forces with another top-5 player in Miami), seemingly in spite of his other-worldly abilities, LeBron doesn’t seem to have the killer-instinct so apparent in the likes of Kobe and Michael.
What about the Black Mamba? Not likely. He’s still (he still believes he is?) an elite scorer, and he’s always relished the role of “closer.” He played just 12 minutes in the team’s first game of group-play against France; though he still somehow managed to jack up 6 shots in that time. With more efficient scoring options all over the roster (James, Anthony, & Durant, to name three), Kobe Bean Bryant could well find himself slipping out of the rotating in favor of better defensive options (see: Iguodala, Andre).
Working our way down the line; could Durant be the man? After all, he is the three-time defending scoring champion. Then again, after the man-handling LeBron gave him in the finals, it seems exceedingly unlikely that he would emerge as the leader of a team with James on it.
So…does the team have an alpha at all?
SURPRISE! Russell Mother-Fucking Westbrook.
What you say? He’s coming off the bench? He’s playing behind Chris Paul? RUSS JUST DON’T GIVE A FUCK. Coach K has clearly established what he wants from his players: excellent on-ball defense, quick rotations, hard work on the boards and confident outside shooting.
Out of respect, we’ll take a moment to acknowledge the possibility of Paul separating himself from his USA teammates as the guy. While Paul is a once-in-a-generation playmaker, his knees have betrayed him over the past couple years, and it’s most apparent defensively. Though he’s still perennially among the NBA’s leaders in steals, his one-on-one defense has clearly slipped.
Alternatively, every NBA fan knows what a nightmare Westbrook can be for opposing guards; not only capable but eager to hound opposing guards and wings the entire length of the court. His foot speed and incredibly leaping ability allow him to make blocks like this one: make no mistake, Russ is the most intimidating weakside defensive guard this side of Dwayne Wade.
He’s finished third, first, and sixth respectively among point guards in rebounding rate of the past three years (a fancy way of saying he rebounds damn well for someone playing his position). Finally, though his three-point shot wasn’t falling during the Olympic warm ups in Spain, he shot a respectable 32% from three-point land last season, and more importantly, he takes open shots with confidence, in rhythm.
While Durant, James and Melo are stuck playing an elaborate game of dueling banjos reminiscent of the Heatles first season together, Westbrook’s role is not only clearly defined, but perfectly fitted for him.
To be clear, in no world do I believe Westbrook will lead the team in scoring. Nor do I expect him to lead the team in minutes, or would I predict him to be the guy Coach K would design a game-deciding shot for. However, with Kobe having passed the torch (however unwillingly), LeBron having firmly established himself as “one of the guys,” rather than “the guy,” and teammate Kevin Durant still processing the beating he took trying to outduel LeBron, I think the fiercely intense, freakishly athletic and fantastically exuberant Russell Westbrook to emerge as the team’s leader on the floor.
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Welcome to Not Your Father’s Water Cooler!
You know those mind-numbing water cooler discussions about weather, pets and weekend activities? That soul-crushing small talk would be far less demoralizing if it included something you actually cared about.
Founded by two hoops addicts, NYFWC brings you the kind of water cooler chatter we dreamed of: a dialogue centered on hypothetical trades, basketball debates and of course, humor.
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