Morning Shootaround — Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers’ West more concerned with wins than stats | Drummond could become an elite defender | Westbrook mired in a shooting slump

No. 1: Pacers’ West not fretting stats plunge — There’s only one number that matters to Pacers forward David West: Indiana’s win-loss record. With the Pacers off to an NBA-best 14-1 start, he’s not too concerned that many of his individual numbers are at all-time lows, writes Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star:

The 11th-year pro is averaging just 12.2 points — 24 percent off his career average — and 30 minutes played, and he couldn’t care less. His team is 14-1.

“We talked about at the beginning of the year that everyone was going to have to make sacrifices, so it’s no big deal,” West said as the Pacers prepared for tonight’s game against Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s just the way this team is built.

“We’ve got multiple guys that can produce at a high level, five guys averaging double figures. We’re being productive. That’s how our offense is geared this year.

“So, I focus on other things.”

After games, he rarely checks his scoring total until he has gone through the categories he considers significant to team success.“Rebounding, field goal percentage,” he said of his routine of box score reading. “Defensively, what did we hold the other team to?”

Not flashy, but it draws praise.

“He’s selfless,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He doesn’t care about his own numbers.”

That’s because West works, doing everything that makes a teammate happy. It’s no coincidence that the former Xavier standout recently scoffed at a question about individual goals.

“I don’t have them,” he said with a hard stare.

West elaborated on that this week with the same intensity.

“I’ve never played the game that way; my mind doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The goal is to win, to try to win games.

“Maybe some nights I have to do a little bit more offensively; some nights it’s not required. That’s fine either way, but the effort has to be there defensively; it always has to be there. Beyond that, it’s whatever.”

Pacers President Larry Bird said that mentality is what “changed everything” with the organization when West was signed as a free agent in 2011.

“It’s his seriousness,” Vogel said. “Guys act up a little less when David West is in the room because they understand we’re here for business.

“He gives everybody else on the basketball court some swagger and confidence, some edge that we’ve got one of the baddest power forwards in the game on our side, and we’re going to go out and win the physicality battle most nights.”

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No. 2: Cheeks has big expectations for Drummond — Pistons big man Andre Drummond is leading the NBA in field goal percentage and ranks among the NBA’s top 30 in blocks per game with a 1.2 average. Much of those stats are due to an increase in playing time in his sophomore NBA season and his coach, Maurice Cheeks, sees the tools in Drummond that could make him a top-flight defender, writes Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press:

As Drummond practiced his shot a few feet away at the Auburn Hills practice facility, Cheeks spoke about the potential he carries inside the free-throw line — as a defender.

“I think it’s just learning how to do it,” he said. “I hate to always say he’s a young player, but he is a young player and there are going to be peaks and valleys of him in control in the paint.”

Some days Drummond will be good. Some days he won’t be so good.

“There have been a lot of big-time shot blockers in the game, and I don’t know how they got to that level. But big-time shot blockers, they’ve been doing it a long time,” Cheeks said. “I think he will get to that point. I just think he has to learn how to do it.”

Cheeks doesn’t foresee a need to feed Drummond offensively.

“He used to tell me he touched the ball by rebounding the ball,” Cheeks said. “And he does a great job rebounding the ball. He does a good job offensive rebounding the ball. But I don’t think he’s that kind of player that needs to touch the ball to be engaged.”

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No. 3: Westbrook struggling to find his shot — In the 10 games since Russell Westbrook returned to the Thunder’s lineup, OKC has gone 8-2, scoring wins over Spurs, Nuggets and Clippers (among others). But Westbrook is shooting a career-low 38.8 percent overall and 29.3 percent from 3-point range, and has struggled to make shots pretty much since his return to the lineup. But as Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman notes, Westbrook might be ready to snap his skid tonight as the Warriors come to town (8 ET, NBA TV):

Through 10 games, Westbrook is shooting just 38.8 percent. He’s connected on only 29.3 percent of his 3-point tries. Even his free throws aren’t dropping at the rate he’s accustomed to, as he’s shooting 69.7 percent from the foul line.

Wednesday’s win against San Antonio stands as Westbrook’s low point.

He made just two of 16 shots, missed all five of his 3-pointers and scored a season-low six points.

You’d have to go all the way back to April 16, 2012, to find the last time Westbrook was held to single-digit scoring in a regular-season game in which he played at least 10 minutes. That came in a 15-point road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

But these are the sporadic struggles the Thunder expected out of Westbrook.

While rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee, Westbrook was forced to sit out all basketball activities. Prior to making an earlier-than-expected return on Nov. 3, Westbrook hadn’t stepped on a court for a game since April 24.

“It’s going to take time,” Westbrook said. “Your legs got to get stronger, your body, all your muscles got to get used to working and getting back going.”

Oddly enough, Westbrook got off to a similarly slow start shooting the ball when healthy last season. Through his first 10 games of the 2012-13 season, Westbrook shot an identical 38.8 percent and just 27.9 percent from 3-point range.

But it’s clear this season that rust is a real factor.

Westbrook is missing more easy looks than ever before. He’s shooting 41.5 percent on 2-pointers, which matches the career-low output from his rookie season. In each of the previous three seasons, Westbrook hovered between 45 and 48 percent on 2-pointers.

Surprisingly, it hasn’t been his patented pullup jump shot that’s been a problem. He’s maintained his rhythm and accuracy from that distance and even improved from midrange. He’s made 18 of 29 pullup attempts, or 62 percent, according to nba.com/stats.

But where Westbrook has struggled most is in the paint and at the rim, a sign that, while his explosiveness has returned, his timing just isn’t quite there.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Big Three are all averaging less minutes per game than usual … Kings center DeMarcus Cousins considers it a ‘compliment’ when foes try to get in his head

4 Comments

  1. okc2014 says:

    I agree. Russell Westbrook is still in recovery mode. I think he is rusty and playing somewhat cautiously. And yes, it’s very, very early in the season. He will make-up for it as the season moves on. Go Thunder!

  2. john says:

    Russell was not even supposed to be playing with the thunder yet. Give the guy some time he is still just as raw and just as prolific of a scorer. The season is very, VERY young.

  3. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    Westbrook has not been himself since he came back from his meniscus injury…. Derrick Rose has LONG road ahead of him …