Shoot Less, Russell Westbrook
Why Durant’s the driver and Westbrook is in the passenger seat.
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 Keep Shooting, Russell Westbrook for the counterpoint. — Ed.
For believers of the statement that experience wins championships, we have five words for you: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City Thunder teammates are on the threshold of their first NBA Finals appearance and have officially stepped into the role of NBA superstars. To qualify how incredible of an achievement this is, let’s play a game of numbers.
22- The age of both Durant and Westbrook. Teammates James Harden and Serge Ibaka are both 21. Right now most people their age in Austin are either taking final exams or recovering from the debauchery of a Thursday night on 6th Street.
24- The number of games the Oklahoma City Thunder won two years ago. They won 50 a year later and 55 this season. That’s an incredible improvement and a testament to the coaching of Scotty Brooks — who has been getting hammered for his decision making in the Playoffs against Memphis — and the talent level that the Thunder team has collectively. What’s more scary is the idea that this team hasn’t built a complete chemistry with newcomer Kendrick Perkins, who was picked up at the trade deadline. (By the way, Danny Ainge, I don’t know if you realize this yet but letting Perkins go was a HUGE mistake. The Thunder can’t thank you enough. Perhaps it was a way of paying it forward after Kevin McHale handed over Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in the ‘07-08 season?)
Lest we get too caught up in the wonder of Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo, we also should address a buzzing undercurrent of tension that seems to have been building this postseason. That would be the question of whether a co-existence is possible between Durant, who seems ever quick to defer recognition to other teammates, and Westbrook, who many NBA pundits believe wants to be Derrick Rose 2.0. Continuing the numbers game, here’s a few reasons the Thunder are having a bit of difficulty finding their place in this postseason.
108 to 97: That’s how many shots Russell Westbrook has taken in comparison to Kevin Durant, the team’s leading scorer. Yes, Memphis has made it incredibly challenging for Durant to get open, locking him up at times with the solid defense of both Tony Allen and Shane Battier, but we’ve seen way too many plays in the game where Westbrook either dribbles the shot clock down to less than 10 seconds and then fires a shot, or instances where he drives straight into the heart of the defense and is denied. Westbrook possesses quicksilver speed but that doesn’t mean he is the team’s option. Statistics prove that the team is better when Westbrook is more of an efficient shooter, not one who relies on volume. Which leads us to proving that point…
44%- The shooting percentage of Russell Westbrook in the ’10-11 regular season. Westbrook averaged 17 attempts per game.
40%- The shooting percentage of Russell Westbrook in the ‘10-11 postseason so far. Westbrook is averaging nearly 21 shots per game.
Compare that to the numbers of Kevin Durant, who shot 46 percent on 19.7 attempts in the regular season and has actually improved his shooting percentage by .005 percent in the postseason, shooting 20.1 times a game.
Care to take a stab at guessing which one of the two players has changed their game in the postseason, not necessarily for the better? We’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the one that we think of when a rerun of Arachnophobia or Eight Legged Freaks is showing on TV, which is pretty much never. Based on those statistics, Kevin Durant should pull a Keyshawn Johnson and tell Russell Westbrook, “Give me the damn ball!” But you know that’s not going to happen.
There have been a number of comparisons between Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, particularly at the end of the ‘10-11 season when the Rose hype turned to Rose backlash, and we all inevitably felt the need to be contrarians.
“Statistically speaking, Westbrook is just as good as Rose,” critics cried.
Yeah, well statistically speaking, David Robinson was just as good as Hakeem Olajuwon, but we all know we would rather have “The Dream” over “The Admiral” any day of the week. That doesn’t mean Rose is head and shoulders better than Westbrook, but Westbrook is making a critical error by trying to mimic the offensive style of Derrick Rose.
Rose put up 19.7 shots a game for the Bulls because he had to. He is the best offensive option for Chicago and it’s not even close when you put him up against his teammates. Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah should be called the Dutch Boys, the way they chip the paint off the rim. Rose has, like Westbrook, fired up more shots in the Playoffs, averaging 23 per game. The results are similar to Westbrook’s, with Rose’s field goal percentage dropping from 45 percent in the regular season to 42 percent. Some of this is attributed to Rose playing through an injury, but we can forgive Rose for taking the shots. He does it because he has to. Westbrook does it because he wants to.
As stated before in previous articles, it’s nearly impossible to win an NBA title without two elite players. Magic had Kareem, Jordan had Pippen, Kobe had Shaq and Gasol at different points, Pierce won with Garnett and Allen, and so on. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have enough talent to take over the Western Conference, but they will only do so if they can find a way to leave their egos at the door. Kevin Durant seems to understand this. Does Russell Westbrook? We’re not completely sure.
It’s time for Westbrook to realize that he is better as a facilitator instead of the alpha dog role. He can make the smart decision and realize there is no shame in being the Scottie Pippen to Durant’s adaptation of the Michael Jordan role, or he can destroy the Oklahoma City Thunder from within and make his way to the New York Knicks a year from now. There’s plenty of room on Carmelo Anthony’s couch right now, which would be where he ends up sitting as other teams make deep runs into the Playoffs. Russell Westbrook has the skills and intelligence to form a timeless union with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder; but will he? Stay tuned.