Keep Shooting, Russ Westbrook
In defense of the Thunder PG.
The media has been critical and lauding of Russell Westbrook throughout the postseason. What’s to make of the Thunder PG’s role? Here, we present one of the argument. Check out Shoot Less, Russell Westbrook for the counterpoint. — Ed.
by Cub Buenning / @cubbuenning
I have one piece of advice for Russell Westbrook: “Keep shooting.”
While the bulk of hoops experts seem to be urging the third year guard to do the exact opposite, I have a differing opinion.
Fear not, there is a healthy understanding that Westbrook is the point guard for a team that has the League’s top scorer. And that in every “normal” situation that contains these specifics, the point guard is asked to do everything in his power to get the ball into that scorer’s hands. He should be putting “the best interests” of his team ahead of his own. He should be getting easy shots for his teammate(s). He surely should NOT be taking big shots during crunch time of Playoff games. That’s NOT what a “normal” point guard should be doing.
But, here is the problem. Russell Westbrook isn’t a “normal” point guard and the Oklahoma City Thunder are not a normal team. During his brief time in the NBA, Kevin Durant has proven to be a ravenously lethal scorer who deserves constant feeding. In a “normal” team setting, that duty would fall on the hands of the point guard. But Westbrook (and a few other new-breed points around the League) are developing the future of the position on-the-job: an athletic, explosive blend of set-up and score. A 20-point scorer who can get 10 assists on the same night. In just three years in the NBA, Westbrook is already there.
So why is everyone telling him he is being a ball hog?
In the 10 games that the Thunder have played in this postseason, Westbrook has endured more than a few postgames filled with doubt, annoyance and down-right disdain for the way he is leading this precocious young squad. Tonight the Thunder are on the verge of moving on to the Western Conference Finals with a Game 6 in Memphis. They have faced two young, athletic, up-tempo teams in Denver and Memphis and appear primed to meet up with the Dallas Mavericks for the chance to go to the NBA Finals.
So what is the big deal? Has this type of criticism ever been heaped on an All-Star who led his team to 55 regular-season wins? Westbrook’s play (and start to his career) was justified even more on Thursday, when he was named the League’s All-NBA Second-Team. I’ll refrain from asking that same question I just posed because I know that this type of scorn has never been lopped on a Second-Teamer, a top-10 player. Never.
I should have probably prefaced this rant with my ardent belief that Westbrook did deserve the aforementioned criticism after his team’s Game 4 loss in Denver. It wasn’t so much that he chucked up 30 shots in the game (he did finish with 30/6/5) but that he continued to pump up shots from long-range. Going 0-7 from three in a knockout game was a little problematic, but for a young kid still feeling out his way in the League, it wasn’t that dire (he had hit six of his first 10 threes in the Denver series).
Westbrook certainly was taking a few risks (which are allowable when you are up 3-0 in a series) and was obviously trying to end the game and series in dramatic fashion. For a guy who gets to the free-throw line almost eight times a night and shoots 85 percent from the stripe, I would have preferred Westbrook to attack the rim a little more. I had issue with quality more than quantity. Everyone sqwaked for the ball to be in Durant’s hands down the stretch of that game (which it was of course, two nights later, when KD scored 13 in the last three minutes to clinch the series for OKC) but Westbrook wasn’t doing anything much different than he has done since entering the League as an uber-athletic, lane-filling, highlight-reel 2 guard from UCLA. In college, Westbrook had Indiana Pacer point Darren Collison feeding him the ball on the wing or in transition, but in the pros, Russ has had to play both roles. Had to.
What might be forcing these criticisms is a general lack of knowledge of just how the Thunder generally win games. Yes, Durant is the star of this team and a 30-point lethal scorer, but Westbrook might be just as vital to the team winning its first Northwest Division title since relocating from the Pacific Northwest to the central plains. In the regular season (his third straight without missing a single game), Westbrook was a 22-point/8 assist guy. He took big shots at big moments. He also set up game-winning shots for his teammates. Those numbers haven’t changed much in the postseason. He is taking a few more shots, but isn’t that expected as benches shorten and coaches look to their stars to give “a little more?”
I guess I am just confused how we can blame a 22 year old who accounts for almost 40 points of production a night for shooting too much when his team continues winning? Has Westbrook’s increased shooting hurt his team? Will it hinder the Thunder from making it as far as their rabid fan base hopes for?
Westbrook’s shot selection and style of play enabled his team to win 67 percent of their games during the regular season. His team is 7-3 in the Playoffs.
Keep shooting, Russell, keep shooting.