Ball movement high on Westbrook’s list

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the Thunder’s media day

OKLAHOMA CITY — Visions of Pau Gasol, back to the basket, effortlessly tossing passes to cutters and slashers and 3-point shooters as if directing a choreographed ballet certainly danced through the minds of the Thunder, whose ambitions to increase ball movement in their potent, but heavily star-driven offense seem to have only intensified.

“Well, yeah, we had obviously a chance,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday of OKC’s summer dalliance with Gasol, a terrific low-post passer who chose to leave the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls. “One thing I look at is I love the team I have. I wished him the best. I had a great meeting with him. But it’s not something I even think about now.”

Brooks does love his team, and he’ll never miss an opportunity to let everybody know it. In fact on Monday he announced, without provocation, that Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the game.

And Westbrook promptly agreed.

“I feel like I’m the best player on the floor every time I step on the floor. That’s just my mindset,” Westbrook said during an exceedingly short and curt media session, perhaps the most telling sign that he’s back to 100 percent from the knee injury that robbed him of the 2013 playoffs and half of last season. “It’s not just this year, not just last year. It’s just how I think when I get on the basketball floor.”

If that’s the case then the Thunder’s desire to move the ball around more, to involve more players not named Westbrook, Kevin Durant or pick-and-pop maestro Serge Ibaka should not be the excruciating exercise it has been, particularly during out-of-timeout or late-game situations when execution is paramount.

But this is also a tricky area because Brooks must also allow his two supremely gifted stars to exploit their own unique skills to create for themselves and score. An over-reliance, however, can lead to over-dribbling, teammates standing around and ultimately either Westbrook or Durant forcing low-percentage attempts late in the shot clock. Memphis, a quality defensive team, has flustered Durant and the Thunder in each of the last two postseasons, winning in five games in 2013 without Westbrook, and forcing a seven-game series last year.

When Westbrook was sidelined during the 2013 playoffs, he watched the games from the suite level and said it helped him see the game differently. He vowed to return a smarter player. He missed half of the regular season and then was sensational in the postseason, averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. But he also attempted nearly 21 shots a game and made only 42 percent overall and 28 percent from beyond the arc.

This summer the Thunder added 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow, the type of consistently lethal perimeter shooter they’ve lacked, and emerging second-year center Steven Adams has shown the ability to catch-and-finish in the paint. Westbrook said moving the ball isn’t just more talk, even suggesting we will take notice.

“I think that’s key. Moving the ball is definitely a big part of our improvement as a team,” Westbrook said. “It’s something that we made a conscious effort to be able to go into this year trying to do. There should be something that you see new from us.”

The Thunder have incrementally increased their assist totals over the last three years. In 2011-12, they ranked last in the league in assist ratio (14.7), the number of assists a team averages per 100 possessions. That also happened to the be the lone season OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. That season it also had Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, another rare player capable of getting to the rim almost at will.

The trade of Harden to Houston just prior to the 2012-13 season naturally forced changes that seemed unnatural for a team that had grown together the previous three seasons. In 2012-13, OKC ranked 23rd (16.7) and last year they ranked 15th, although their assist ratio didn’t change (Westbrook’s absence obviously also has to be figured into that). For reference, the Spurs led the league at 19.2 assists per 100 possessions.

“We know what it takes to win games. We know what it takes to get to the top, but we don’t know what it feels like to win a championship,” Westbrook said. “There’s steps we have to make as a unit, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to make those.”

18 Comments

  1. flea4man says:

    the best point guard in the league right now is Tony Parker AND HE HAS THE RING TO PROVE IT!!!!

    best point guard in the league is the one on the championship team at the end of the season ( stats will confuse you)

  2. isaac says:

    Name a point guard that Westbrook hasn’t chewed up and spat out.

    • haha says:

      The truth is, for many teams, Westbrook would be the best point guard. But for others Chris Paul would be better. It all depends on personnel. But by the end of this year the consensus will be that Westbrook is in fact the league’s best.

  3. SYDALE says:

    Westbrook is not the best PG in the League…

  4. adot says:

    I agree with u all apart from the wizards are a joke and jeremy lamb better shine this year, scott brooks holding him back

  5. AM says:

    Westbrook didn’t need to tell us that he thinks he’s the best player ever time he steps on the floor.
    We can all Clearly see that by his Terrible shot selection and selfish play while being next to THEE best player on the floor (Durant). This young man has brainwashed himself and he has ruined this franchise over the past couple of years. Get a coach who can control him or trade him NOW

  6. Dan.N says:

    I can even say Nate Robinson even better than R.Westbrook even though he is short.

    • timpson says:

      Lol right

    • Kylo says:

      Obviously you’ve never played an organized sport. Cause if you did you’d know that you need confidence to perform at your highest level cause your mental is a vital condition that determines what happens physically. Westbrook isnt the best pointguard but he’s the best fit for okc, he plays in as another huge factor along side reigning MVP and Serge. Putting all those players on L’s the same night is literally impossible

  7. KingdomMan says:

    They will never win a ring constituted as they are. Losing James Harden was the dumbest thing they could do because he could and would reduce the wear and tear on KD & Westbrook as they would play less minutes. What I don’t get is: why wouldn’t you go over the cap to sign Harden? Is he a bad guy? No. Is he a divisive locker room presence. No. By all accounts, he was loved by his team mates. Can he produce? absolutely!!! Look at his stats now. To top it all of, he was willing to come off the bench!!! What more do you want from a guy!!?? He was absolutely worth the max contract he should have received and to be honest, I felt it was disrespectful. NOT signing him killed their chances of winning. The only way they win now is they get 5 MAJOR breaks (all other contenders have injuries). If you listen closely, you can hear other western conference GMs laughing themselves silly for Presti’s all time blunder.

    People kill MJ for having the worst winning pct all time but why would he overpay a bunch of stiffs just to win 25 games?

  8. jake s. says:

    There is too much on the line for OKC. The odds of Thunder winning a championship is 40%. Cleveland 20%, Chicago 20%, Spurs 20%. Clippers Fall short every season, Warriors have little defense. Wizards are a joke, and everyone else doesn’t have a player named Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, Lebron James, Tim Duncan, Derrick Rose, or Kevin Love.

  9. e.flame says:

    This is a great read. And yes russell is the best pg in the league hands down.

    • reggohllabam'i llabehtemevig says:

      westbrook may be ONE of the best but definitely not the best hands down. jacks up too many bricks

  10. okc is back says:

    Yes! Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. And he and the Thunder are going to roar right through the regular season and on to the playoffs. I can’t wait to watch them hold that trophy. Go Thunder!!!!