When Russell Westbrook was with the Oklahoma City Thunder he won and MVP, piled up the triple-doubles and took on the league with his chip-on-the-shoulder, intensity of 1,000 suns mentality.
There’s a lot of similarities between Russell Westbrook and Jalen Hurts.
Hurts has that same desire Westbrook does, some of that same off-the-court/field mentality. He even deals with the media and the interview situation in a comparable way and is a notable and obvious leader like Westbrook.
And recently, Hurts, like Westbrook when he was in OKC, has taken on a lot of criticism. No, it’s not nearly at the level of criticism Westbrook endured, because no one in Oklahoma sports history has been piled on more than Westbrook – some of it deserved, some not so much – but Hurts has taken his share. And in the case of Hurts, some of it is deserved, some of it not so much.
We saw the ascension of Westbrook come early, but we saw the stardom of Westbrook show itself most brightly when compared against Kevin Durant. When Durant left, Westbrook became a hero, easy to compare against Durant – the guy who left. It was simple. Westbrook was considered loyal and KD was the bad guy.
No matter what Westbrook did that first season after KD left, he was going to be praised for it. Now, Westbrook was, by all accounts and most metrics, amazing, averaging a triple-double and earning the MVP, but Westbrook’s biggest asset was public perception. He was doing it all himself and he did it while KD left him without even saying goodbye.
Meanwhile, spin it forward to this year in Norman. Hurts is constantly compared against Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, two No. 1 picks, two Heisman winners and holders of two of the greatest seasons in college football history. Hardly fair to measure anyone against those two. Yet, no matter the comparison, Hurts is seen as loyal. Remember, the guy stayed at Alabama even after he was benched. He bailed out the team in the SEC title game, despite not playing the most meaningful snaps of the season. Only after Alabama fell in the title game to Clemson last season did Hurts announce he was leaving the school. The result, similar to when Westbrook “stayed” after KD left, was a consensus: Everyone liked Jalen, especially the Oklahoma fans who got themselves a proven winner, but even the Alabama fans who saw him as someone who “did the right thing.” Nationally, Hurts was seen in a very positive light. Rightfully so.
Westbrook had the stats in OKC. So does Hurts. Westbrook was the team leader. So is Hurts. Westbrook wanted to do everything on his own with the Thunder to prove a point, and seemingly so does Hurts. Westbrook had all the skills, but lacked the basketball “smarts” to get out of the first round of the playoffs, whether it was taking bad shots, committing silly fouls or losing his mental edge. And here is Hurts dealing with some of the same things.
Three times last week against Iowa State Hurts threw sure interceptions. Two were dropped by ISU defenders. The final wasn’t and led to a last-minute touchdown and nearly cost the Sooners the game. Hurts also had questionable, “what was he thinking” passes against Kansas and Texas. He carried the ball, maybe by design, but maybe not, too many times against Kansas State, leaving the OU running backs with just six attempts all game. His mental awareness, like Westbrook, another player who has all the skills and the stats, is often times questionable. At best.
Both players want to get it done on their own. The difference being Westbrook wanted to do it because he didn’t trust his teammates. Jalen Hurts just trusts himself more than others.
Both situations are troublesome. With Westbrook it was obvious, whether it was him crashing into the lane without direction, choosing to break off certain plays or taking ill-advised shots that he had trust issues. With Hurts, his singular focus on winning, the fact he’s a coach’s son and his college football experience make him the obvious choice to be the sole decision-maker on the team. However, because of Hurts’ immense trust in himself, it can easily lead to a mismanagement of choices. Instead of handing the ball off, conceding a loss or even something as simple as an incompletion, Hurts knows his abilities and is so sure of them, he’ll keep it one too many times or throw the ball into more traffic than an expressway. Better to do things on your own then expect another to do their job.
Hard to imagine it’s necessary to write out this sentence of prose, but Hurts shouldn’t be benched. Yes, some have said that, expecting bigger and better things from third-stringer Spencer Rattler. It’s not going to happen. Anything Hurts has done wrong doesn’t warrant getting sent to the sideline. That’s silliness.
Hurts, like Westbrook, make the teams they are on better, not worse. The Thunder are not better off without Westbrook. The Sooners are not better off with a back-up or third-stringer running the offense the rest of the season. Yet, Hurts, like Westbrook both have to get around their trust issues.