Because the NBA’s Vegas Summer League gets so much more attention, what happens in the Orlando summer league usually stays in Orlando. So while the ’09 summer buzz has centered around Anthony Randolph, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans and the other guys who shined in Vegas, Russell Westbrook has been overlooked as one of the stars of the offseason.
Coming off a solid rookie campaign (15.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg), Westbrook dominated in Orlando, averaging 22.3 points, 7.8 dimes and 2.5 steals. And while he didn’t have to play in the more popular summer league, Westbrook still did work in Vegas, taking part in the USA Basketball mini-camp last month.
Yesterday I got a few minutes on the phone with Westbrook, where he talked about his summer, the future of the OKC Thunder franchise, and just how he’s been able to turn so many guys into posters.
Dime: After Orlando and Vegas, what do you have planned for the rest of the summer?
Russell Westbrook: Nothing much right now. I just finished up summer school at UCLA, where I was taking some History classes. I might go on vacation somewhere for like a weekend, but right it’s just working out, chilling, enjoying the offseason.
Dime: You also went to China, right?
RW: Yeah, I was in China for about a week or so with the NBA Jam event. It was a different experience. We traveled all over to different cities, saw different places. I was fortunate enough to be one of the guys chosen to go, and it was a lot of fun meeting people and talking to kids out there.
Dime: What did you take away from the Team USA camp in Vegas?
RW: There was a good amount of talent there. I think I did a good job of just going in and doing what I needed to do; hopefully I put myself in position to be on the USA team in the future.
Dime: What did it mean to you that Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and yourself were all at the mini-camp?
RW: That was big. We’re real fortunate all three of us got to represent the Oklahoma City Thunder organization, and hopefully people got to see what we’re about. It was also the first time all three of us got to play together this summer. So far it’d be like, two of us getting together at a time, but never all three.
Dime: You guys are all pretty close off the court, along with some other younger guys on the Thunder, D.J. White and Kyle Weaver. Is there one guy who’s the leader of the crew?
RW: Jeff is the oldest, but nah, not really. It all depends. That’s what’s cool about it, because whatever we’re doing or wherever we go, somebody else might be the leader.
Dime: The NBA schedule just came out this week. Any games stand out to you?
RW: Yeah. I just looked at the schedule, and that first week or two is pretty tough. We’ve got Detroit, Portland, the Lakers that first week, then we got Orlando and the Spurs after that. We want to come out with a bang and do some things this year, but that first part of the schedule is tough. We’re gonna have to be focused.
Dime: You killed it at the Orlando summer league, looking like you’ve improved in every aspect of your game. What have you been working on this offseason?
RW: For me, I don’t like to work on nothing specific — I work on my overall game. I’m trying to get better everywhere, so I’m working on all of it.
Dime: Do you have a signature move?
RW: Not really for me. I get a lot of pick-and-roll stuff, so there ain’t too much I’m doing put there that’s signature. I guess my signature dunk would be a one-hand dunk on somebody.
Dime: Do you have to work on getting a vertical leap like that, or has that been something you’ve always had naturally?
RW: To be honest, I was never really jumping that high when I was younger. I had to work on it. I didn’t dunk for the first time until the last game of my senior year in high school. I didn’t really start dunking regularly until college. I just work on my legs and my core: Running the stairs, squats, working my hamstrings and quads. Then just sit-ups for my core.
Dime: The Thunder was one of the teams with a lot of salary cap space, but you never heard anything about any interest in Allen Iverson. What do you think of A.I.’s situation?
RW: I think his situation is a lot different from most guys. When you think of the kind of money he makes and the kind of player he is, teams have to take a good look and see if they wanna make this move. He can still get it done, obviously, but I guess people worry about whether he can lead a team or play a different role. He might end up in a situation where he doesn’t play as much as he used to, but I think he’ll still get it done. I’m pretty sure he’ll get picked up soon.
Dime: You got to play with James Harden in Orlando. What do you think he’ll bring to the team?
RW: He’s willing to work hard, just like all of us. I know him personally just from being in L.A. all the time, and he’s a really good guy. He’ll bring a lot to the team; he can help us out in some aspects we need to get from that two-guard spot.