The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.
After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?
Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.
Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.
The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.
Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.
The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.