Russell Westbrook returned to Oklahoma City for the first time as a visiting player on Thursday night when the Thunder hosted the Houston Rockets. Westbrook received a hero’s welcome from the OKC crowd, with a terrific tribute video played before he was announced in the starting lineup, ‘MVP’ chants throughout the night, and an outpouring of support from the fans who watched him grow up in front of their eyes for 11 seasons.
Westbrook brought his A-game for the TNT showcase, finishing with 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting on the night. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the Rockets to do so. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back after facing the Atlanta Hawks a day earlier, the Rockets mostly resembled a team that was going through the motions. Even the great James Harden failed to score 20 points for only the second time all season.
The Thunder pulled away from the very beginning of the night to grab a 113-92 victory. Chris Paul, the point guard they received in the Westbrook trade, also had a great night in a more understated way. Paul put up 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, and four steals in the win, and absolutely humiliated Houston’s Isaiah Hartenstein in the process.
With the win, the Thunder are only 3.5 games behind the Rockets in the standings and are firmly in the playoff mix as the current No. 7 seed at 22-16 overall.
Westbrook-for-Paul was the most fascinating trade of the summer for many reasons. Part of it was because of just how different they are. Despite both playing the same position and dominating the league over the last decade, Paul and Westbrook have distinctly opposite skill sets. While both can considered petty and stubborn and vindictive, their perception among teammates seems considerably different, too.
This is all the ways Westbrook and Paul are polar opposites of each other.
Westbrook is beloved. Paul has left teams on bad terms.
Westbrook’s return to Oklahoma City underscored just how much the franchise and its fans love him. Check out the tribute video they played for him during starting lineup introductions:
That Westbrook’s return to OKC happened on the same day Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins got into pointless Twitter fight only made the positive perception of Westbrook more apparent. While OKC fans were notoriously cold and crude to Durant in a malicious way when he returned for the first time as a visiting player, the Thunder embraced Westbrook with open arms.
Paul has rarely felt as beloved as Westbrook. Paul first demanded a trade from the Hornets in 2010. After he was dealt to the Clippers, he had a tense relationship with co-star Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan reportedly grew tired of him, too. When he arrived in Houston, Paul and Harden’s relationship reportedly soured after two seasons, leading to the trade for Westbrook with the Thunder.
Westbrook’s style of play is certainly polarizing, to put it mildly. But off the court, he clearly has strong support from those who have spent time around him.
Paul is surgical. Westbrook is a bulldozer.
Westbrook and Paul play the point guard position in totally opposite ways.
Paul has always been one of the smaller players in the NBA. He is an all-time great player because of his mind, not his body. In addition to being one of the highest-IQ players ever, Paul is also ridiculously skilled. His nutmeg of Hartenstein illuminated that:
Chris Paul embarrasses Hartenstein with the nutmeg and finish pic.twitter.com/ms0z0vPxAu— Heart of NBA (@HeartofNBA) January 10, 2020
If Paul does everything he can to go around you, Westbrook is hellbent on going through you. One of the strongest and most explosive players in league history regardless of position, Westbrook rose to prominence because of his raw power. Fans will remember all the poster dunks, but he also used his athleticism to become a great rebounder, a terror in transition, and to get into the teeth of the defense before dishing to a teammate.
Paul is slow and surgical. Westbrook is fast and powerful. It’s as simple as that.
Paul will sell his soul for a win. Westbrook is competitive in a different way.
This season has been one long showcase for just how ruthless Paul is as a competitor. Take this incident against the Trail Blazers, when Paul called for his long-time friend Carmelo Anthony to be whistled for a technical foul after yelling (swearing?) at the ref.
Paul had another iconic moment this season when he essentially won the Thunder a game by snitching on the Timberwolves for an untucked jersey. Yes, it required a miracle finish to send the game to overtime, but OKC only had the opportunity to do it because Paul knows the rule book like the back of his hand.
Westbrook is also one of the most competitive players in the league, a reputation he earned with every successful 3-on-1 drive. In general, though, the love Westbrook gets from former teammates and home fans makes it seem like he’s someone that can be trusted.
Westbrook famously re-signed with the Thunder as a free agent when there was speculation he could leave for Los Angeles. Yes, the Thunder offered him the most money, but that hasn’t stopped other players from this generation from leaving their original teams. Westbrook also threw a party for Paul George when he announced he was re-signing with the Thunder. Westbrook’s move to the Rockets was also largely due to his friendship with Harden, the same player Paul had trouble getting along with. We’ll see how this chapter of the story eventually ends for Harden and Westbrook.
Paul and Harden are each all-time great point guards who played the position in totally different ways. While Westbrook has long had a cult of personality that followed him, Paul’s biggest fans are typically people who view the game through a more analytical prism. The fans that love Paul do so because they feel like he has a strong statistical case as one of the greatest players of the last few decades. The fans who love Westbrook find his personality endearing.
The differences between the two players just makes the trade that exchanged them for each other even more fascinating. When choosing your personal favorite between Westbrook and Paul, there are no wrong answers.