Posts Tagged ‘Scott Brooks’

Brooks: Durant to face Pelicans tonight

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant will make his 2014-15 NBA debut in New Orleans Tuesday night, according to Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks in comments to media at the Thunder’s shootaround. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, who first reported the news, has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced this morning that Kevin Durant will play against the New Orleans Pelicans tonight – Durant’s first game action since fracturing his right foot in the preseason.

Durant participated in a full week of practices leading up to Tuesday’s announcement from Brooks. Durant’s last five practice sessions all involved contact with no setbacks, per The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry.

Durant makes his debut against a Pelicans team that is currently 7-8 – fifth in the loaded Southwest Division. The Thunder is third in the Northwest Division, eight games behind first-place Portland (13-4).

As expected, Twitter was also abuzz about OKC’s turn in fortune:

For the 5-12 Thunder and their fans, this has to feel a little like opening gifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. They got Russell Westbrook back on Friday, and the irrepressible point guard, who had surgery on a broken bone in his right hand just two games into the season, scored 32 points with eight assists and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes in a blowout victory over the Knicks.

Now it’s Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, who has been out since undergoing surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot in mid-October. The 6-foot-10 forward won his fourth NBA scoring title last season, averaging 32.0 points with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists to help OKC go 59-23 and reach the Western Conference finals.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Russell Westbrook set to return for OKC Thunder

HANG TIME BIG CITYRussell Westbrook will return to the starting lineup tonight for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the New York Knicks, head coach Scott Brooks told reporters this morning. Westbrook had missed Oklahoma City’s last 14 games following surgery to repair a broken right hand.

Though he played just two games this season, Westbrook was averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game before the injury. The Thunder went 4-10 without Westbrook, who was expected to carry a heavy load with Kevin Durant out with a broken foot. Durant’s projected return remains unclear. The Thunder are currently six games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Durant, Westbrook set to practice

Is that a bugle call we hear just around the corner? Is that cloud of dust from the cavalry kicking up a storm and charging to the rescue?

The Thunder took another tough one on the chin with a 94-92 home loss to the Nets Friday night. But the good news is the All-Star pair of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will rejoin their teammates for a practice on Saturday.

Westbrook still wore a splint, but shot with his surgically repaired right hand and Durant made a couple of dunks off his surgically repaired right foot at Friday’s shoot around.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks told Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman that the pair of Thunder stars will now take the next step in their rehabilitation:

“They had good workouts the last couple days,” Scott Brooks said.

And the positive injury news didn’t stop there. Brooks also revealed that the two superstars will participate in parts of Thunder practice on Saturday afternoon — the first team work for either since their injuries.

“Probably not any of the contact stuff,” Brooks said. “(But) they will go through some of our practice and we’ll go from there.”
The two seem to be healing at an accelerated rate and a return by the end of next week — particularly for Westbrook — isn’t out of the question.

Per the NBA’s hardship rule, neither of the stars (or Mitch McGary or Grant Jerrett) are allowed to return until the Nov. 28th home game against Derek Fisher’s New York Knicks.

The news can’t come too soon for the Thunder, who have now dropped to 3-11 on the season. In order for OKC to reach the 49 win mark that was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season, the Thunder have to finish up 46-22 (.676) the rest of the way.

Westbrook out at least month after surgery on broken hand


VIDEO: Who steps up now for Thunder?

The clock of healing and recovery from major injury starts the moment the surgery ends, but as expected in Russell Westbrook‘s return from a broken right hand, the clock really is a calendar. The Oklahoma City point guard will be out at least one month after suffering a fractured metacarpal bone in his right hand.

Westbrook, 25, underwent surgery Saturday morning on the fracture he suffered in the second quarter of the Thunder’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. The team said he would be reevaluated in four weeks, by which time he will have missed at least 15 games.

Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com offered an update on Westbrook’s condition and on the many injuries that have hammered the Thunder in the early NBA season:

Westbrook is the latest victim of an injury bug that that has come through and decimated Oklahoma City’s roster. Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett are all out with injuries. Jackson was expected to rejoin the lineup as early as Saturday against Denver in the Thunder’s home opener, but he said at the team’s shootaround Saturday morning that he is not 100 percent and doesn’t expect to play against the Nuggets.

If Jackson does not play, the Thunder would be left with only eight healthy players. Only one, veteran Sebastian Telfair, is a point guard.

“This is the time when we stick together, especially with the guys that we have out,” Telfair said. “It’s no way to replace them guys.”

Due to the rash of injuries, however, the Thunder will soon be eligible to exceed the maximum of 15 players on its roster should the league grant Oklahoma City a hardship exception. It’s an exception that allows teams with at least four injured players who will be sidelined for at least two weeks to add an additional player. For a team to qualify for the exception, all four players must miss at least three consecutive games while sitting out those two weeks.

The Thunder will meet the criteria following the Nuggets game, as Durant, McGary, Morrow and Jerrett all will miss their third straight game while nursing long term injuries. Westbrook’s fluke injury from Thursday night will soon give the Thunder a chance to apply for a second exception once he misses three consecutive games.

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

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.”

Thunder happy to have fresh KD


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk about coming into the season well-rested

OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant turned 26 on Monday. Not exactly old age, but he’s also no longer the kid leader of the 25-and-under Oklahoma City Thunder fun bunch climbing the rungs of the NBA ladder.

He is on the climb to 30 now and things have become a bit more serious as titles have become more elusive. Human frailty has twice sabotaged potential championship runs in successive seasons and Durant’s upcoming eighth season in the league — and who knows, perhaps his penultimate season in OKC — presents another excellent opportunity to finish first. So with age comes a sharpened perspective, a narrowing of time and thus, a wisdom to make different decisions than one might have made previously.

Durant made one such decision in early August and not everybody appreciated it. After committing to play for Team USA and participating in its July training camp in Las Vegas, Durant exited it conflicted. He wanted to uphold his commitment, but his fatigued body was pushing him the other way and his head was telling him training camps would open two short weeks after the six-week World Cup odyssey with Team USA.

“He had actually texted me before he actually made it public that he was going to take a step back from it,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, a Durant confidant, said Monday. “He asked me what I thought about it. I said it’s what’s best for you. KD did a lot. He carried the load when Russell [Westbrook] was out, he was averaging a lot of minutes, played a lot of time on the court. Going through the season he kept it going to win his MVP and he played at a high level. And we’ve been playing damn near to June every year since I’ve been here. So it’s well-deserved.”

Durant’s decision to leave Team USA three weeks before the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain came as a surprise to everybody, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Durant had made a well-intentioned commitment to play even when many of the NBA’s other superstars had not. The 2010 world championship MVP and 2012 Olympic gold medalist put his employer and Thunder teammates ahead of country this one time. He’s been clear he plans to play for Team USA in Brazil 1n 2016.

Yet when Durant offered a well-reasoned explanation for leaving the team on short notice, some called him a quitter, suggested he was being selfish during a summer in which he reaped millions in endorsement deals and said he unfairly left the team in a lurch. The next day, Rudy Gay happily accepted an invitation to replace Durant and the U.S. cruised undefeated to another gold medal, without even having to face Durant’s Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka and might Spain, thought to be Team USA’s toughest foe.  The Americans won their semifinal and championship games by a combined 65 points.

If only they had KD.

“I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be in full-season mode in August or July,” Durant said during the Thunder’s media day on Monday when asked about his decision not to play. “I just wanted that time to just free my body and my mind of it all and just go out there and workout and work on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer. Because I know how long the season is, and I just wanted to be fully prepared for that.”

Durant has led the Thunder to at least the Western Conference finals in three of the last four years. No player logged more minutes than he did last season and his workload over the last five seasons is beyond reproach.

“I’d rather have a guy tell the powers-to-be, ‘you know what, I can’t give you my 100 precent effort both mentally and physically,’ because if you don’t you’re not going to help your team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin stepping up. That was not an easy decision, but he stepped up and said, ‘I wasn’t mentally and physically ready to compete with the 12 guys we had.’ He played a lot of basketball. He’s entitled to have a summer off, right?”

Westbrook also pulled out of Team USA to properly rest a right knee that had been operated on three times in the span of eight months and sidelined him for half of last season. Both players had as restful a summer as they’ve had in years. Ibaka is back at full strength from the calf injury that forced him out of the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. There is a lot of optimism entering camp that OKC is equipped to get back to the NBA Finals.

“I was glad to see him make a decision he felt like he needed to do,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate since his rookie season in Seattle. “He felt that he needed to step away and I was glad he was able to make that decision because I know that was a tough decision. So, yeah, for our team, for us, I think it’s a positive that those guys [Durant and Westbrook] are coming in fresh.”