Westbrook Delivers On Both Sides


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –
Any player as talented and accomplished as Russell Westbrook will be a bit reticent when the subject turns to his continued evolution after he’s ankle-deep into what has the makings of a long and illustrious NBA career.

That would explain the pained look you see on Westbrook’s face when he’s asked about any strides he might have made the past few years when it comes to playing the point guard position that his critics swear he’s unsuited for.

A closer look at the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star’s performance this season reveals a player who is absolutely in the midst of transforming himself into the sort of effective hybrid facilitator/scorer that could lead the Thunder not just back to The Finals, but to the end of the rainbow they fell short of last season.

The complaints that Westbrook looked for his own offense at the expense of others, namely three-time scoring champ and fellow All-Star Kevin Durant, is true at times. That criticism, though, doesn’t look nearly as prevalent in Westbrook’s game so far this season.

So what if his 104 unassisted field goals this season rank second only to Kobe Bryant‘s 108. Westbrook is delivering on both sides this season. No player in the league has been assisted by a single teammate more than Durant has been assisted by Westbrook (53). In fact, Westbrook holds the top two spots on the list, with 47 to Serge Ibaka.

That’s a substantial improvement for a player whose assist percentage dipped dramatically from the 2010-11 season (42 percent) to just 28 percent last season. Westbrook is assisting on 41 percent of his teammates’ field goals this season, a figure impacted by the increased playmaking responsibility he’s assumed since the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston. That move altered OKC’s late-game philosophy of having Harden handle the ball with both Durant and Westbrook deployed primarily as scorers.

It’s the sort of statistical rebound most players would be praised for, yet you hear little in the way of praise for that part of Westbrook’s game. Most of his most ardent detractors are waiting around for those instances and games where his scorer’s instincts come out and he shoves the facilitating portion of his duties to the side (the Thunder’s Fan Night matchup against Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets on NBA TV, 7:30 p.m. ET, serving as the next prime-time opportunity).

Thunder coach Scott Brooks has been one of the most vocal and constant supporters of Westbrook sticking to what comes natural, be it scoring or facilitating, so long as it is for the greater good. And his loyalty has been rewarded this season in the form of a star guard whose scoring average hasn’t suffered (from 23.6 last season to 20.7 this season) all that much as his assist (from 5.5 to a career-best 8.7) and rebound (from 4.6 to a career-best 5.1) stats soar.

Toss in the fact that Westbrook’s overall impact is strengthened by the slight tweaks he’s made to his game and the fact that he’s nowhere near his ceiling just five seasons into his career, and it should be easy to see why the Thunder didn’t miss a beat when Harden departed.

None of that will satisfy Westbrook’s biggest critics, of course … but something tells me that Westbrook doesn’t care much what anyone has to say about his game these days.

19 Comments

  1. Jordan says:

    Russel Westbrook is the best guard in the nba next to kobe bryant. Then comes rondo, paul. (Rose will be back up there im sure when he returns.) People like to pick on someone and sadly they choose cute Russel to do it. He is the next michael Jordan in five years.

    • Richard says:

      I agree in part with u, but even when D rose is out of the field, he still is the best guard of this years, THEN comes westbrook,Deron w, chris P, Tony P, Rondo… You can’t say that some star nowadays is better than Koby(for example) just because this last don’t play since some time ago due to an injury.

  2. ap says:

    Westbrook will be playing at his best in 3-4 years. thats gonna be scary to watch. go OKC

  3. Breeezy says:

    Great to read an article that actually makes a lot of sense when it comes to this issue. I love Westbrook and his game, and as OKC fan I’m very rarely frustrated with his play. Like Sekou said, there are times when he doesn’t do the right thing, but I’ll gladly take them with all the right things he does.

    His shooting started very poorly, but has crept up higher, and by the time the season is over it will be at a good percent somewhere around .45. He did the same last year and ended around .46.
    Though he is not the best point guard in the traditional sense, there is no other point guard with the same explosiveness or athleticism (perhaps with the exception of Derrick Rose’s first step) that can take over a game like Westbrook can. And, the face that he is now facilitating better only means he is starting to do it all. One night he can dish out 10 – 12 dimes to Durant and another night, when the time is right he can take over and win games himself. It is rare to have that, and that’s why Scott Brooks values him so much, and anyone that follows basketball and NBA close enough should too.

    With Westbrook’s increasing Basketball IQ – knowing when to facilitate and when to score – and Serge’s continued improvement offensively, this team is capable of winning it all. Whether that is this year or in the next couple we will see. It will take time to get the chemistry right, but so far they seem to be progressing well.

  4. Okc says:

    Serge is the key to win it all.

    • Just A Guy from Bosnia says:

      I absolutely agree! I read a comment somewhere that Ibaka should have been traded, not Harden! That is crazy!!! Ibaka is the most important guy in this team with his defense and blocks! Most of the NBA players have big egos, so when they see Ibaka humiliating guys with his blocks they tend to shoot from distance rather than driving to the basket! And with his offensive game improving rapidly I think he will be a multiple all-star in the future!

  5. David says:

    Some people need to understand Westbrook is the most vital part in Scott Brooks’ system; the coach’s version of a one-two punch, with a relatively tall PG and a skinny SF, is pretty much unheard of and the velocity and creativity of it can’t be replicated by any other team right now. That’s why Westbrook doesn’t always have to be a facilitator. For such a young team to have been in the Finals once is pretty amazing, imagine what lies ahead and relax.

    From Portugal.

  6. Rio says:

    I sure hope OKC wins finals one day but dont see that happening without Harden this year

  7. WestbrookMVP says:

    Finally….a good blog about the best point gaurd hands down in the nba!!!!!! ChampionsDontLeaveTown….who cares about Harden not getting to celebrate the championship with KD and RUSS….he’s a trader who chose money over the team. I hate that our own fans our supporting that trader. Who cares about him….hes a boring rocket now

    • LisbonRockets says:

      The best PG is currently recovering AKA Derrick Rose. Sorry.. when westb. can shoot like DR… maybe another era… but not this one. HANDS DOWN DR BEST PG IN THE NBA.

      :)

  8. bunbury says:

    Wrestbrrok is one of my favorite players but he needs to improve his 41.5% FG this season. He is shooting 1 more shot per game than Durant but averaging almost 6 less points per game. by the way, the thunder made it to the finals only because the NBA helped them beat the spurs. oh yes, even my mother noticed it.

  9. REAL DEAL says:

    WESTBROOK is a BEAST! Hands down. And I appreciate Sekou’s for finally saying something positive about Russ unlike everone else. He takes alot of heat for no reason. If im not mistaking KD is the 3x NBA leading scoring champion for the last past 3yrs right? So obviously he is geeting the ball and his numbers aren’t hurting with Russ at the point.

    And it gets on my nerves when people say Westbrook wants to be the man all the time when CLEARLY he is an all-star.
    The Thunder would not be the team to beat in the west if not for westbrook nor be in the talks for winning a championship. THE ONLY REASON he takes so much heat for shooting is because he has KD on his team. He Is a scoring guard JUST like Derrick Rose. As a matter of fact they both play the same position, and rose shoots more, played less games the Russ, and Westbrook STILL! Has a better shooting average over his career. Even Rose MVP season Westbrook stats were better.

    I like rose im just saying he and westbrook are the same type pg the difference is rose played point all his life, westbrook played 2 guard his whole career but was put in as a point when he was set to play on the highest level of competition of them all.

  10. ahmed says:

    If russel doesn’t finish his Point Guard development move him to the two and start Maynor.

  11. ChampionsDontLeaveTown says:

    Sekou’s right…and i’ll go one further…Russell is becoming the prototype that all future PG’s will have to live up to. It will be a shame that Harden won’t get to celebrate a championship with with KD and Westbrook.

    • Towns(Cities)LeaveChampions(by not providing support cast) says:

      Westbrook’s transformation is a pleasure to watch and OKC is the favorite to come out of the west right now, Lakers are a joke atm.

    • BS CATCHER says:

      Ur an idiot. Why would westbrook be the prototype-PG when his athleticism is off the charts, he played SG, and he can’t shoot very well.

      • Phil says:

        He’s havinga few shooting problems right now, but a lot of players have issues pop up throughout their careers. His athleticism is off the charts, but compare the league today to how it was in the 80s. Almost everyone in the NBA now is more athletic than the 80s NBA. In another 20-30 years expect the same type of increase. Players like Westbrook. LeBron, and Howard (when fully healthy) are a head of the curve in athleticism, but future players will have to match that intensity in order to compete forcing the overall level of athleticism to increase in the NBA over time.

    • Stas Ryzhak says:

      Lillard is the next one!