Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kevin Durant must take command in OKC


Russell Westbrook is back to his old tricks.

Only two games into the season, he is back to jacking up more shots than Kevin Durant. Not only that, but Durant is, yet again, shooting a significantly higher percentage. Scott Brooks needs to get the memo: this is inexcusable.

Kevin Durant is arguably the best offensive player in the game. It’s utterly pathetic that there is somebody on KD’s own team getting more shots than he is—and a teammate who shows time and again that he does not deserve those shots.

Westbrook’s selfishness has held the Thunder back and now, with Harden gone, there is no buffer.

Westbrook will be fully exposed for what he is: the most selfish player in the NBA. More than Kobe, more than Carmelo, more than anybody else in the league, Westbrook just does not share the ball. Want some more proof? Durant has more assists (12) than Westbrook (11). The math here just does not add up. Westbrook is a point guard and Durant is a three-time scoring champion! Why would the scoring champion ever have more assists than his point guard? Shouldn’t he be the one racking up the assists to the lights-out shooter?

Sure, it was one of the more surprising turn of events when Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti dealt James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Maybe the financial disparity was not that large and the end result had to be a trade.

If that was the case (as it appears to have been), Presti should have traded Westbrook.

And it was not hard to do either, that is what I find particularly disappointing. The Thunder did not need Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo dishing dimes to Harden and Durant, just a mediocre point guard would have worked wonders. Harden could even run the point if necessary.

Westbrook’s trade value could have satisfied that and more.

But, to OKC’s dismay, three games into the season, Harden is absolutely demolishing the competition. Granted, the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trailblazers are not the NBA’s best, but a Lin and Harden backcourt looks like the perfect match—a pair of unselfish scorers. That duo has the potential to be a second-tier version of the Miami Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Unfolding before our very eyes is proof that Westbrook was holding back Harden’s true potential…as he is no doubt continuing to do with Kevin Durant.

There is no other way to put it: Sam Presti kept the wrong number two player. Even though Russell Westbrook may be a more gifted athlete than Harden, the Bearded One would have been a better match with Durant. Chemistry is important and that is one thing that Russell Westbrook does not bring to the basketball court.

I gave Westbrook a favorable preseason ranking with the NBA’s best, but he has slapped me in the face, screaming only two games into the season that he might not even deserve a top-10 spot. I thought he could change his shot-happy ways, but Westbrook cannot figure out something as simple as giving the ball to Kevin Durant. We don’t need a basketball analyst to figure out that the best player should be taking the most shots for his team.

Without Harden, this is a ship waiting to get wrecked.

Don’t be surprised if Harden shows us this year that he is a better basketball player than Westbrook, either. And with that statement whisks the excitement away that has been built in OKC after incredible drafts over the past couple years.

Before we jump to conclusions about this season, all hope is not lost. There is time for change.

There are two solutions, however. For one, get Russell Westbrook out of the point guard position. How? …Well Presti put OKC into this mess so he should be able to find someone to fit the bill.

The second, and more critical adjustment, involves a change in a Thunder player with a non-zero number on the back of his jersey: Kevin Durant must stand up to Westbrook and insist on getting the ball more often. Durant does not have to make a public scene, because that’s not him. But he needs to make an emphatic statement to a clueless Russell Westbrook.

In no situation should the box score ever show that Westbrook took more shots than Durant. None. Oklahoma City will not win a championship with Westbrook trying to run the show like he is.

In the end, Kevin Durant is the captain of this ship. He has to command a change of direction or else prepare for wreckage.

9 comments:

  1. Before writing this, let me begin by saying (per Stephen A Smith) that the season has just started, OKC just lost their 3rd best player a few days ago, and are still learning to play without him, so we should hold off on making big predictions about the future of the Thunder based on their current record for at least a month. However, I will still argue...
    First of all, Russell Westbrook is not truly a point guard. He is a hybrid guard, and far more of a shooting guard than a PG. Allen Iverson was also technically a point guard – nobody actually looks at him like one. He actually played shooting guard at UCLA, and over his previous 4 seasons, his assist averages have been 5.2, 8.0, 8.2, and 5.4, respectively, for a career average of 6.8. That seems high, but those 8-assist seasons came when Durant was not as good as he is now at creating shots off the dribble, so they were inflated because of that. Put it this way, his entire NBA career, Westbrook has not been an especially gifted or willing passer, and in his 5th season in the league, there is no reason to really believe that he will become one.
    Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Yes, Kevin Durant is the greatest scorer in the game today (in my opinion), but outside of him and Westbrook, with Harden now traded, OKC doesn’t have a plethora of scoring options. Kmart may become one once he gets adjusted, but neither Perkins, Ibaka, Sefolosha, or any of their other players can truly create shots for themselves. So, put it this way, OKC needs both Durant AND Westbrook to score!
    Now, I will address your main points: 1) There is no reasons Westbrook should ever have more shots than Durant and 2) Sam Presti should remove Westbrook from PG position in some way or another. 1) Last season, Durant averaged 19.6 shot attempts per game while Westbrook averaged 19.2. So, they essentially shot the ball equally! And they had the 2nd seed in the west. I actually went ahead and looked at their playoff record. Out of 20 playoff games last year, Westbrook shot more shots than Durant in 11 of them, and they made the NBA finals, and lost to a monstrous Miami team. This shows that OKC is an extremely deadly team when Westbrook is shooting the ball, even as often as Durant. Westbrook is a scorer, not a facilitator, and while he should defer to Durant a little more often than he does, he deserves to get a lot of shots, and yes, sometimes, more than Durant. After all, Miami also has two big-time scorers (LeBron and Wade), and Wade averaged even fewer assists than Westbrook last seasons (4.6, and 4.3 in the playoffs). Why did Wade not get as much criticism as Westbrook? Without Westbrook scoring as much as he does, life would be a LOT harder on Durant, as he would probably get double teamed on almost every possession. Instead, now, defenses have to focus on TWO monster scorers instead of one.
    2) Last year, both teams in the NBA finals, including the champion, played without a traditional point guard, so talent at this position is not necessary to win a ring. Furthermore, OKC is a team that thrives on athleticism and off-the-dribble scoring, rather than a traditional pick and roll or spacing offense. I think that Westbrook playing the hybrid guard position is just fine.
    Listen, the Thunder have started slow, and the Harden trade may have been a worse decision than they thought. But, they still have two top-10 players, and a lot of the stats you cited are unsustainable (at this point, Westbrook and Durant are tied in assists). Westbrook will pick up his passing, but he will continue to shoot, which is just fine with me, as well as with Durant.

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    1. Indeed, this is the beginning of the season. But the problem is that Westbrook has a track record.

      To address your points: I agree, Westbrook is not a traditional point guard. Neither was Dwyane Wade. Solution? Follow what Miami did with Wade and move Westbrook to the 2 guard. Even the Warriors this year have taken away most of the true point guard role from Stephen Curry and given it to Jarrett Jack. That’s the way it should be done when you have two prolific shooters/scorers. Miami has a title to prove it.

      As for A.I., that comparison just doesn’t work. A.I. was the only star in Philadelphia. He was by far the best player…he had over 2200 points in the 00-01 season. The next highest scorer, Aaron McKie, had 800 points. A.I. was competing with nobodies for shots. Westbrook is competing with the reigning three-time scoring champion…

      Just think how Jordan or Kobe would react if someone like Westbrook took nearly as many shots as they did. Westbrook would be released immediately. Durant needs to be more forceful. He will never have the selfishness of a Kobe but he needs to get more than his share of shots. 19.2 to 19.6—that’s a joke of an edge. Durant should have AT LEAST 3-4 more shots per game than Westbrook. You said it yourself, he’s arguably the best in the game! Why would some PG who loves jacking up shots and has PROVEN he is not as consistently elite as Durant compete for shots? The OKC offense revolves around someone who may become one of the greatest scorers of all time. It’s blasphemous to consider 19.2 to 19.6 as reasonable.

      To follow up your comparison of assists for Wade to Westbrook: again, that is erroneous because the two don’t play the same position. Wade is a scorer and is at SG for it. Right now, Westbrook is at PG. He needs to play like one, or, like the article says, change positions. Not only that, but LeBron and Durant are two VERY different players. LeBron is a facilitator and Durant not so much.

      My conclusion from these points is that a Harden-Durant combo would have been better than what is now a Westbrook-Durant combo. Harden and Durant have complementary playing styles whereas Durant and Westbrook clash. It’s not a perfect analogy but take the recent World Series as an example: the Tigers had the best pitcher AND best hitter in the league.

      They were swept.

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  2. First to clarify a few things: My AI comparison was only mentioned to bring up another guy who was also a “point guard” (he played the PG position for most of his career) but is not really a PG, and is never looked at in that aspect. I mentioned this to provide a framework for Russell Westbrook – he is that type of player, and will never be Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, or DWill.
    You’re right in that Westbrook plays the PG position while Wade [mostly] plays SG, but my point is that the actual “position” they play is irrelevant – it is their ROLE in the team offense that should be discussed. And Wade, very similarly to Westbrook, is a scoring hybrid guard playing with a better scorer than he is, especially at this point in their careers, and another scoring threat (Bosh) that OKC doesn’t have. Regardless, he still gets a lot of shots, about 1.5 less than LeBron in both 10/11 and 11/12, and this is with Bosh taking a large chunk of shots as well. And, as we can see, Miami wins rings with two elite wing scorers. If you want Westbrook to “change positions”, sure, put in Jeremy Lamb at PG and move Westbrook to SG. But to me, it’s irrelevant. Remember, the main reason that OKC has Westbrook at PG is to let Thabo Sefolosha start at SG, because he is a far more elite defender than anybody else on their roster. In other lineups that OKC plays regularly (such as Fisher-Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka), Westbrook does play SG arguably their best lineup sometimes. But he is already playing the ROLE of SG, so it doesn’t matter to me either way.
    Now to address “Why would some PG who loves jacking up shots and has PROVEN he is not as consistently elite as Durant compete for shots?” I believe that Westbrook is far closer to Durant than you think. Westbrook averaged 24 ppg last year, playing alongside Durant. Imagine that he had a team to himself?? You just saw Harden go off in Houston, and he was playing on the BENCH in OKC. The guy is a great scorer, and deserves his shots in this offense. OKC will never run an offense like the Bulls ran with MJ, or like the Lakers ran with Kobe, because they have two elite wing scorers, not one. The Bulls are the one team that could run an offense with primarily one guys scoring because 1) MJ was SO good at it, and 2) Their defense and role players were elite. OKC doesn’t have either of those two things quite yet. Even if you look at the 2000-02 Lakers, Kobe got a comparable number of shots to Shaq, even though Shaq was a proven MONSTER in the post, shooting 58%, while Kobe was still a 4th year cocky shooting guard. (I know the comparison isn’t perfect because Shaq is a post scorer while Kobe is a wing shooter), but the Lakers won RINGS playing that way. Maybe he doesn’t deserve quite as many as Durant, but at the end of the day, OKC is not worse when Westbrook shoots more. All about the WIN, and OKC made the NBA Finals last year.

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    1. Thanks for the continued dialogue.

      But again, not only are AI and Westbrook different from the traditional point guard, but more importantly they are playing with players of wildly different skill sets. Durant vs. Aaron McKie… I would be 100% fine and then some if Westbrook was playing with guys like that and taking a majority of shots. But he’s not.

      Also, the problem is their position because there needs to be someone to facilitate and I would say that’s something that Eric Maynor can and should slowly work his way into (unless they get a FA or someone through a trade). To be honest, I would like OKC to entertain the idea of trading Westbrook (as I have written about before) but I think that is completely impossible now that Presti has already dealt one of the Big Three. The reality is that someone who can better complement Durant is more valuable to OKC than a scorer. Rondo would be perfect but a trade there is unlikely until Pierce retires and if Bradley can’t come back from injury successfully. Maybe even a deal for Jrue Holliday would work, a guy I think is an underrated PG. Also, keep in mind that because Westbrook is so valuable, OKC would likely get MORE than just a slightly above-average PG (ie add a PF/C/solid role player). The OKC fanbase, however, would probably be outraged.

      As for you final point, there is no denying that OKC has done great and I predicted in August that they would make another Finals appearance in 2013. But, that faith is fading because Harden covered up the mess late in games in 2012 that Westbrook had a habit of leaving. Now without Harden and with Westbrook, the only way that OKC is going , without changing something, is down (ie no championship rings). You can quote me on that.

      The point of my discussion is not a disregard for Westbrook’s 24 PPG or OKC’s Finals appearance. It’s that they would be better without Westbrook (and with some of near equal talent who complemented Durant better—obviously through a trade). Could they have beaten Miami? Who knows, but when you have an elite scorer like Durant, a successful team is built with pieces that complement him. Defense, passing, and chemistry are a few things that Durant needs other players to fill his void in—not another scorer.

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    2. I disagree with a few things. First off, Westbrook is more than just a scorer. You did mention him in your top 10 players, after all. He is an above-average defender, ball hawk, and a very good rebounder for his position. As Durant develops into a better defender (it's happening in front of our eyes), and with Westbrook, Ibaka, and Perk, OKC can turn into a pretty scary defensive team.

      The biggest problem with trading a superstar (and I cite Bill Simmons on this) is that you nearly never get a superstar in return. Sure, Westbrook for Rondo and Jeff Green would be a good deal, but that's not going to happen. But what can the Thunder get for Westbrook? Paul George and David West? Clay Thompson and David Lee? Not likely. I don't think they can get anything that will offset everything that he brings to the table in OKC, not to mention the chemistry that the team has. They are still a CONTENDER, and when you're a contender, you don't trade away your second most important player without getting equal value in return. They shouldn't have traded Harden either, but that was a financial decision. Now that OKC traded away Harden, they're sticking with Durant and Westbrook, and I believe that this team, along with KMart, Ibaka, Perk, Maynor, Lamb, PJ3, and DFish can win the NBA finals. COULD they be better off with someone other than Westbrook? Possibly, but it's a huge risk, and right now, they already took a huge risk. They shouldn't take more. This is a team that just made the NBA Finals, after all.

      I just hope Westbrook does realize that Durant deserves more shots, but I see nothing wrong with Westbrook shooting more. Projection: Durant averages 31.9 ppg, Westbrook averages 24.3 ppg, and OKC heads to the NBA Semifinals, and, depending on how the Lakers do, for a rematch vs Miami.

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  3. Indeed, this is the beginning of the season. But the problem is that Westbrook has a track record.

    To address your points: I agree, Westbrook is not a traditional point guard. Neither was Dwyane Wade. Solution? Follow what Miami did with Wade and move Westbrook to the 2 guard. Even the Warriors this year have taken away most of the true point guard role from Stephen Curry and given it to Jarrett Jack. That’s the way it should be done when you have two prolific shooters/scorers. Miami has a title to prove it.

    As for A.I., that comparison just doesn’t work. A.I. was the only star in Philadelphia. He was by far the best player…he had over 2200 points in the 00-01 season. The next highest scorer, Aaron McKie, had 800 points. A.I. was competing with nobodies for shots. Westbrook is competing with the reigning three-time scoring champion…

    Just think how Jordan or Kobe would react if someone like Westbrook took nearly as many shots as they did. Westbrook would be released immediately. Durant needs to be more forceful. He will never have the selfishness of a Kobe but he needs to get more than his share of shots. 19.2 to 19.6—that’s a joke of an edge. Durant should have AT LEAST 3-4 more shots per game than Westbrook. You said it yourself, he’s arguably the best in the game! Why would some PG who loves jacking up shots and has PROVEN he is not as consistently elite as Durant compete for shots? The OKC offense revolves around someone who may become one of the greatest scorers of all time. It’s blasphemous to consider 19.2 to 19.6 as reasonable.

    To follow up your comparison of assists for Wade to Westbrook: again, that is erroneous because the two don’t play the same position. Wade is a scorer and is at SG for it. Right now, Westbrook is at PG. He needs to play like one, or, like the article says, change positions. Not only that, but LeBron and Durant are two VERY different players. LeBron is a facilitator and Durant not so much.

    My conclusion from these points is that a Harden-Durant combo would have been better than what is now a Westbrook-Durant combo. Harden and Durant have complementary playing styles whereas Durant and Westbrook clash. It’s not a perfect analogy but take the recent World Series as an example: the Tigers had the best pitcher AND best hitter in the league.

    They were swept.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the continued dialogue.

    But again, not only are AI and Westbrook different from the traditional point guard, but more importantly they are playing with players of wildly different skill sets. Durant vs. Aaron McKie… I would be 100% fine and then some if Westbrook was playing with guys like that and taking a majority of shots. But he’s not.

    Also, the problem is their position because there needs to be someone to facilitate and I would say that’s something that Eric Maynor can and should slowly work his way into (unless they get a FA or someone through a trade). To be honest, I would like OKC to entertain the idea of trading Westbrook (as I have written about before) but I think that is completely impossible now that Presti has already dealt one of the Big Three. The reality is that someone who can better complement Durant is more valuable to OKC than a scorer. Rondo would be perfect but a trade there is unlikely until Pierce retires and if Bradley can’t come back from injury successfully. Maybe even a deal for Jrue Holliday would work, a guy I think is an underrated PG. Also, keep in mind that because Westbrook is so valuable, OKC would likely get MORE than just a slightly above-average PG (ie add a PF/C/solid role player). The OKC fanbase, however, would probably be outraged.

    As for you final point, there is no denying that OKC has done great and I predicted in August that they would make another Finals appearance in 2013. But, that faith is fading because Harden covered up the mess late in games in 2012 that Westbrook had a habit of leaving. Now without Harden and with Westbrook, the only way that OKC is going , without changing something, is down (ie no championship rings). You can quote me on that.

    The point of my discussion is not a disregard for Westbrook’s 24 PPG or OKC’s Finals appearance. It’s that they would be better without Westbrook (and with some of near equal talent who complemented Durant better—obviously through a trade). Could they have beaten Miami? Who knows, but when you have an elite scorer like Durant, a successful team is built with pieces that complement him. Defense, passing, and chemistry are a few things that Durant needs other players to fill his void in—not another scorer.

    ReplyDelete

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