Russell Westbrook : More of a liability than an asset?
After being drafted in 2008 with the 4th pick by the then Seattle Supersonics, Russell Westbrook has come a long way in the NBA. Recording a triple-double in his first season, Westbrook caught the eyes of many basketball enthusiasts. His aggressive style of play, wherein he barges down the lane fighting against the opposing defense for a lay-up, has led him to average 20 points per game throughout his regular season career.
His ability to strip his opposing ball-handler with uncanny ease makes him a formidable defender. Westbrook’s speed and agility also makes him a wonderful player on the fast-breaks and his dunks are such a wonderful sight given his 6’3″ stature. His ability to grab rebounds and kick-start the offense has helped the Oklahoma City Thunder turnover many a deficit. Although he has averaged 43% from the field and 30% from behind the arc, he is a valuable scoring option behind the 4-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.
The 2014 playoffs however have shown us the liability Westbrook can be for the team. Averaging close to 5 turnovers per game in the first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies in this season’s NBA Playoffs cost his team crucial points. More worrying for a Thunder fan were the nature of turnovers that he committed.
Most of his turnovers are generated from his runs down the lane wherein he tries to go for a quick layup. The Grizzlies utilized this tendency of Westbrook to their full advantage and had OKC at their mercy by Game 5. An inspired performance by “The Slim Reaper” and “The Fashion Icon”, along with stellar defense from the “Serge Protector”, in Games 6 and 7 reduced the arrears to allow the Thunder to advance into the semis.
In the Los Angeles Clippers, OKC face a different team altogether. Dubbed “Lob City”, Westbrook faces a daunting task against the steals and assists leader from the 2013-14 regular season in Chris Paul. The new found mid-range abilities of Blake Griffin, the shot-blocking prowess of DeAndre Jordan, the silky smooth moves of Jamal Crawford, combined with the silent but deadly J.J. Reddick and a Championship winning coach in Doc Rivers have given the Thunder a lot to deal with. Westbrook is already averaging 4 turnovers per game in this series. Couple that with him running down the clock and making a series of knee-jerk moves at the rear end of 24 seconds and that’s precisely what cost the Thunder Game 4 at the Staples Center.
It would be wise on the part of Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks to use Reggie Jackson as the primary ball-handler and Westbrook as more of a 2-guard deep into the game. This may lead to unfavorable match-ups, but as we have seen, it is better than leaving Russ to make decisions with 8 seconds left on the shot-clock . As valuable as a scoring point guard is, the primary objective of a point guard would be to facilitate the play and retention of the ball when the team has the lead.
If OKC are to make it through to the next round, they face a formidable opponent in the San Antonio Spurs.The Spurs have exhibited their dominance with their edition of the ‘Big 3′ in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Their squad also comprises of Marco Bellinelli, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw, all of whom have shown that they need not be recognized to get the job done on the court.
Although the Thunder swept the Spurs in the regular season, and ended their glorious winning streak, we have noticed that the playoffs are a totally different ball game. If the Thunder are to gun for the NBA title, a lot of work has to be done from Game 5 against the Clippers, right up to the Finals. Better possession of the ball and making clever decisions spell the fine difference between the win and loss column for OKC and more than the MVP in Kevin Durant, Westbrook has a larger say in it than most people would reckon.
Although basketball is a team game, history has often made it a point to prove that both individual brilliance and individual errors have a large part to play in the outcome of championships. After all, history remembers only the winners doesn’t it?