It's always interesting to think about what triggers GMs to fall in love with a specific player. Talent and basketball abilities are the obvious factors that affect their decisions, but they're not The Factor.
Well, I want to know what's The Factor that makes the GM say 'this is our guy.' Because an average NBA fan can recognize the high-tier talent, that's a lock to go early. What happens after a few apparent selections is what determines the future of the organizations. Finding those hidden gems is what every team is after.
Would you believe me if I told you that Russell Westbrook was once viewed as a hidden gem? Checkout mock drafts for ’08 - no one had him going higher than #8. Heck, some were favoring guys like Jerryd Bayless and DJ Augustin over him. We all know how their careers turned out compared to Westbrook’s. Russ was a lock for a lottery pick, but that’s about it. The Supersonics taking him fourth overall came as a surprise.
Westbrook was a late bloomer. After only playing 9 MPG in his freshman year at UCLA, Russ did have a breakout sophomore year. He still didn't put up out-of-this-world numbers, but the talent was there. Russ was already an athletic freak and had a tenacity to him that you just can't teach. If you check out his scouting report, weaknesses highlighted are his outside shot and his ability to play as a point guard. Kind of sounds like a big deal, especially when you had guys like Augustin and Bayless putting up bigger numbers and being safer options compared to Russ. So what was the catch? Why did Westbrook go as high? What was The Factor for drafting him? Just ask their former vice president of basketball operations Troy Weaver. He has an answer.
Weaver told me he was going to a workout, and Russ was there two hours early, sleeping in his car. He was like, ‘Yeah, this is the guy.’
Kevin Durant, The Athletic
Weaver pointing that out shows he enjoys blue-collar, hardworking guys, and Russ was just that. In fact, he still is, and always will be. It's a personality trait that Russ is conveying to the basketball court. Drawing that conclusion was enough for the SuperSonics to take him at no.4. And they weren't wrong, not by a long shot.
So what was The Factor? Westbrook's demeanor, dedication, and pertinacity. That, combined with his abilities shown at the UCLA, was enough for the SuperSonics to use their pick on a young point-guard from California.
Russ was a project, but it ended up being a successful one. And you know why? Because it lied on solid foundations. Foundations that triggered Weaver to fall in love with Westbrook. And boy, he ended up being an excellent player to fall in love with.