The first few selections in the 2008 NBA Draft went as expected. With the No. 1 overall pick, the Chicago Bulls chose Derrick Rose from Memphis. Next, the Miami Heat went with Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, and the Minnesota Timberwolves took O.J. Mayo from USC with the No. 3 pick. In the fourth spot, the Seattle SuperSonics drafted UCLA-product Russell Westbrook over his college teammate Kevin Love, Stanford’s Brook Lopez, Indiana’s Eric Gordon and Italian Danilo Gallinari.
The pick would chart the course for the franchise, which moved and became the Oklahoma City Thunder not long after, for the next decade and counting. Let’s take a look at what people were saying when it happened:
“Strengths: Athletic and explosive combo guard with the length to make up for his lack of height … Attacks the basket with a lethal first step and crossover ability … Can handle the rock well and gets into the lane effortlessly … Finishes well at the rim and is unafraid to go up in traffic … Huge wingspan allows him to play much bigger than his 6-3 height … Gets good lift on his jumpshot and has a quick release … Solid passer with unselfishness, always looks for the open man … Has an excellent mid-range game … A gym rat, really works hard to improve, has a great attitude, extremely coach-able … Has the potential to be a bigtime scorer when given the chance … Really excels defensively and has a chance to develop into a great defender … His anticipation for steals and his on ball defensive ability are special … Solid passer who shows the ability to play the point guard position.
Weaknesses: Playing at UCLA he has had a hard time gaining steady playing time (9 mpg) … He’ll likely come off the bench as a sophomore, but should see increased action … Showing the ability to run the point position as well as play the 2-guard will upgrade his draft potential … Must become better at handling ball pressure at the point guard position … Must continiue to improve his body strength … UCLA system will likely limit his ability to fully showcase himself … Needs to improve upon his free throw shooting (55%).” – Aran Smith, NBADraft.net, September 13, 2007 (before the start of his sophomore year of college)
“If you were to tell me that Russell Westbrook would have been a lottery pick at the beginning of the ‘07-’08 season for the Bruins this year, I honestly would have thought that you were on something.
Nevertheless, Westbrook has surprised scouts with his tenacity and willingness to defend. A mediocre jumper is a curable problem, but you can never teach someone the will to defend.” – Justin Yett, Bleacher Report
In a collection of mock drafts shortly before the 2008 NBA Draft, experts from NBA.com, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and more projected the Thunder to select a player other than Westbrook. The highest any of them predicted him to go was sixth, with Sporting News even putting its money on him going 12th.
“Strengths: Explosive backcourt performer with an outstanding upside. Uses quickness to get by defenders on the drive and utilizes leaping ability and strength to finish at the rim. Wingspan helps him be a lock-down defensive player. Plays unselfishly and handles and passes the ball extremely well.” – NBA.com Prospect Profile
“Westbrook has been projected as high as the 7th pick to the Los Angeles Clippers, or maybe even the lowest lottery spot which belongs to Golden State.
Confidently, I can say that Russell Westbrook will be a lottery pick. I was almost hoping for him to slip to 15 and go to the Phoenix Suns, who we all know needs a good defender aside Raja Bell.
Westbrook has stepped up his game no doubt. From going to not even being able to dunk in his junior year, to being a potential lottery pick. Russell Westbrook has stepped out of the shadows, and into the spotlight of NBA scouts, and GM’s alike. All I can say is, I can’t wait to watch him in the NBA.” – Yett
“Junior year in high school, Russell Westbrook couldn’t even dunk, and he’s been putting up highlight dunks in the last year. Who would have thought last year at this time that Russell Westbrook would have been the fourth pick in this draft? A spectacular athlete, great in transition. He can really change ends. He can go coast-to-coast, and he can finish with authority. He can really put the ball on the deck and get into the lane. He did it especially in the Final Four against Memphis, where he was, I thought, one of the best players on the floor. But his finishing ability is without question. He takes it up, makes spectacular plays at just 6-4. Great length. I think he’s the best individual defender in this draft. He’s got good anticipation skills, he uses his length and his athleticism very well. He can stay in front, and I think that makes him very intriguing.
What’s really funny, though, is a lot of people look at him: can he play the point guard position? And I think he can play it. I think he can initiate as a point guard, but he’s not a natural in that position. But when Darren Collison was out earlier this year, it was Russell Westbrook who took over at the point for UCLA, and he was leading the Pac-10 in assists while he was filling in for Collison, so he’s got some aptitude at that position as well.” – Jay Bilas on ESPN immediately after the pick was announced
“A lot of people seem shocked the Sonics went with Westbrook this high, but I’m not. His combination of length, athleticism, motor and defensive toughness makes him an ideal fit with Kevin Durant. Westbrook needs to improve offensively, but at worst he is a defensive stopper. And he could become one of the best point guards in the league down the road. I had him rated as the fourth-best prospect in the draft, right behind Rose, Beasley and Mayo.” – Chad Ford, ESPN
“The Sonics GM Sam Presti is surrounding Kevin Durant with some great defenders. Russell Westbrook is one of the most athletic players in the draft, just ask Cal or Oregon. He won Pac-10 defensive player of the year and it should translate into good defense in the league. It will take him a year or two to learn the point guard position but he will be solid. Has a chance to be a Gilbert Arenas type with less scoring.” – MB MB, Bleacher Report
“I love Westbrook (author had him 5 on his big board) and believe he has the skill set to eventually be a great point guard, but I know Jerryd Bayless does have the offensive skills to be a great point guard. Bayless works extremely well without the ball and would have been the perfect point guard for a system built around Kevin Durant. While not a defender like Westbrook, Bayless has enough athleticism and desire to be well above average.
Westbrook will be a great player, regardless, because of his skills defensively, but if he doesn’t become a great point guard, for the sake of argument, then they will be stuck with an energy 6th man.
There is a slight chance that Westbrook ends up being a better player than Bayless, but I don’t like that risk/reward equation.” – Christopher Reina, RealGM
“Seattle had many draft picks to work with this year and did a good job with them. I’m in between about the Sonics choice of Westbrook ahead of Gordon or [D.J.] Augustin. If the Sonics wanted a guard, then I think I would have chosen Augustin. Especially give (sic) the fact that Augustin and Durant already played together in college, I think that Augustin would have been a better choice … Seattle clearly is looking to the 2010/11 season as the year they make a run at the Western Conference crown. [Serge] Ibaka may be in the league and Durant and Westbrook will hopefully have matured in star players.” – Danny Vinik
“Undersized SG slasher who will spend the early part of his career trying to be molded into a PG and will struggle because he doesn’t possess the instincts and vision to be a successful NBA PG.
You’re talking about a 3* prospect out of HS who even in HS was an undersized slashing SG.
Westbrook is a slashing Monta Ellis type of SG but Monta Ellis has a track record of being a big time scorer who can create his own shot but Russell on the other hand never scored more than 22 Pts since the end of his HS career.
Westbrook is not comparable with Randy Foye another undersized SG who was attempted to be molded into a PG because Randy Foye is a stronger and more athletic 2 who enjoys to draw contact but can shoot from the outside and create his own shot.
Westbrook has emerged as a Top 10 pick although he was considered a player who could’ve gone between 16-25 just 6 weeks ago and him possibly going to New York at #6 or anywhere in the lottery will draw a microscope to his progression.
Russell unlike the other Guards in this draft class doesn’t have something he’s so good at that it can keep him employed in the NBA, his defense is good sometimes but it’s been overlooked that Ben Howland teaches his players great zone defense and Russell is potentially a product of that defensive scheme.
Russell has quick hands and can get a steal or two but how he’ll be able to fair in a man to man defense against much stronger PG’s such as Baron Davis, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, Chauncy, etc. on the defensive end is in doubt.
I’m sorry but Russell Westbrook will be the 1st player from this draft class who will be out of the league.” – Interminator, InsideHoops.com Forum
“… I was not surprised that Seattle passed on Jerryd Bayless at the four spot as they need a really true passing point guard for their future with Kevin Durant. In that sense their choice of Russell Westbrook made sense for them.” – Anklesnap, The Hoop Doctors
“He’s a great defender, a great guy to be around, I heard. He’s a great addition to our team, so I’m excited to play with him next year, and I can’t wait.” – Kevin Durant, Seattle SuperSonics forward
“For all those raised eyebrows and puzzled experts who questioned Russell Westbrook’s being chosen fourth overall in last month’s NBA draft, a scout monitoring the Orlando Pro Summer League had this to offer Thursday: ‘He’s flat-out the best player here not named Kevin Durant.’
Lofty praise indeed for a herky-jerky point guard who some thought at one time was only the third-best player on his Final Four team at UCLA. High marks, for sure, for the player who sent shock waves through the draft with his stunning climb into the top five despite having averaged less than 13 points a game in college.” – John Denton, ESPN.com
“At summer league, you tell yourself to wait on praising a kid because there aren’t a lot of NBA players here, but what he’s done is really impressive. I don’t think he’s going to be a good player; I think he’s going to be an excellent player. With young guys, the timetable is always uncertain. But it’s not a question of if he’s going to be great, but when. We just have to keep surrounding him with great players.” – P.J. Carlesimo, Oklahoma City Thunder coach
“I’ve worked so hard to put myself in the position that I am, and it’s surprising to me that people are questioning why I was picked so high. But here I am. To me, being the No. 4 pick means nothing because I’m starting all over again trying to show what I can do.” – Westbrook
This article was originally published July 6, 2019.