DALLAS – In the months-long aftermath of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s demise in the Western Conference finals, Russell Westbrook is going to hear his name kicked around even more than he did during the month that led to this early-career crossroads for the second team All-NBA point guard. And considering the way Westbrook was knocked by analysts, fans and observers nationwide the past five weeks, that’s saying something.
The criticism is legitimate. As breathtaking as Westbrook’s game can be at times, his decision-making and inability to dissect a situation and attack it appropriately is every bit as maddening as his talent is off the charts.
He averaged as many turnovers (4.8) during the conference finals as he did assists (4.8). And there are few instances where Westbrook taking more shots than Kevin Durant, the league’s two-time scoring champ, or even superb sixth man James Harden, makes much sense in a playoff series.
But remember that Westbrook is just 22 and has been a full-time point guard for all of just three years. He didn’t play the position exclusively at UCLA. He has a steeper learning curve at the position than any of his contemporaries, guys like league MVP Derrick Rose and stalwarts like Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
Westbrook deserves more time before anyone makes lasting judgments about his game. He deserves more than two postseasons to prove himself worthy of all the praise heaped upon his young shoulders at the start of his NBA career. And he certainly deserves more time to see if he is the ideal fit for a team with championship aspirations. We are willing to give him that time, provided Westbrook goes into the lab this summer and examines the deficiencies that were exposed by both the Hang Time Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks … and comes back a better player because of it.
“These people talking about trading this kid and him not being a winner are out of their minds,” an Eastern Conference executive told me before Game 5 of the conference finals. “You don’t ignore the strides he’s made and the things he’s done at this stage of his career and assume he won’t improve and work to make his game better. They should know better, writing off a young guy like this so soon. It’s the hardest position in the league to play, the hardest to learn and the most difficult to manage and maintain. These same people who talk about getting rid of him must have forgotten about guys like Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups, who faced similar criticisms early in their careers and you see how that worked out. But you can’t compare and contrast him with Jason Kidd, who is one of the best to ever play the position. That’s just not fair the kid.”