Sunday, June 17, 2012

Russell Westbrook Shouldn't Listen to You

Russell Westbrook has been taking a beating from the media during the Finals largely due to our tendency to put players under a microscope during this time of year.  Mind you, I do not consider myself part of the media or the public, but rather an objective observer / fan of the game and an occasional bettor.  But when a team in the Finals loses, every possible flaw is further magnified and players and coaches alike get grilled, just ask LeBron James.

Following Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Russell Westbrook took a lot of (familiar) criticism from "analyst" Magic Johnson, the media and the entire internet community for supposedly being a selfish ballhog, lacking play-making ability and overall poor decision making.  This all stems, of course, from his aggressive play style that usually either leads to a highlight reel play or a missed shot or turnover.  But the guy is averaging near triple-double numbers in the Finals and the Thunder have had astounding success throughout the playoffs.  Granted they play a seemingly unsustainable, come-from-behind style as a team, Westbrook has been largely successful in the playoffs and is simply a matchup nightmare.  We have only seen two games of the Finals, and Westbrook is taking a pretty serious beating from nearly everyone, so I decided to resurrect my blog to make a few key points as to why this criticism is unjustified and why he shouldn't listen to what people are saying about him and his game (even though he has made it crystal clear that he does not care what people think).

In response to Russell Westbrook's performance, Magic Johnson (amongst others) went on record to tell the world that Westbrook's game 2 performance was the worst game by a point guard he'd ever seen in the Finals (for a moment, let's ignore the fact that Magic Johnson headlines arguably the worst pregame / halftime crew on television).  Westbrook wasn't phenomenal, but he does what the coaching staff requires of him, and believe it or not, operates within the constraints of the Thunder's dynamic.  In the first quarter of any Thunder game it's Westbrook, Durant, Sefolosha, Ibaka and Perkins.  It's pretty obvious who you want taking shots in the beginning of the game, and that's when Russ get's a lot of his shots up.  Aside from Harden, Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder are a pretty offensively challenged team in terms of personnel, so in the beginning of games, it's Westbrook and Durant.  Most people will respond with, "Durant should get more shots!"  Durant put up 22 shots (including 10 three pointers) to Westbrook's 26 shots, but what the public needs to understand about Durant, is that he is not a volume shooter.  Durant is a supremely efficient scorer, and should shoulder equal blame for the Thunder's game 2 shortcomings.  But within the Durant / Westbrook shot distribution debate, is the fact that Westbrook's aggressive play-style really allows Durant to save his legs for the 4th quarter, where he has dominated.  Russ's energy and shot volume really allow Durant to be preserved for late game heroics should it be necessary.

The fact of the matter is that Russell should probably be taking more shots.  The Thunder's role players were absolutely awful in game 2 and Westbrook often found them good shots, but unfortunately for him they aren't effective offensive players and he was unable to gather more assists, which in turn would lessen the criticism heaped upon him.  In my opinion, any Thunder shot that goes up that isn't being released by Durant, Harden or Westbrook, is a shot I want if I am playing the Thunder.  If that means Russ has the ball even more, then so be it, because the Thunder are much better off with a Westbrook pull-up jumper than almost any Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins or Derek Fisher shot.

This analysis is a response to the criticism of Russell Westbrook's offense, but few recognize his impact on the defensive end.  Those that think Westbrook deserves this criticism have yet to recognize those defensive contributions.  He does so much for this young Thunder squad, whom have been exceeding expectations and improving every year he has been a part of the team.  It's his fourth year in the league and he's an integral part of a team in it's first Finals, and thus it's time to recognize Westbrook's full body of work and the fact that he does not need to change his game.  It's in our nature to criticize because of the big stage, but doubters will have their feelings hurt because Russell Westbrook gets better with every game he plays.

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