The people vs Russell Westbrook

Westbrook_photo

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.

Advertisements

Ideal locations for Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony

Rajon Rondo is one of my favorite NBA players ever. His highlights, especially his palm the ball fake passes, are bonkers. I understand he can be hard to reach, kind of like the way Dennis Rodman is kind of described. It’s hard to call a player so talented at dishing out assists selfish but it almost seems that way. I think he’s got another championship run or two in him.

And his days in green and cream are probably numbered. The Celtics seem determined about to rebuild through the tank-to-a-superstar method. That puts Rondo, who’s 28, on the outside looking in. Her are some trade locations.

New York Knicks

This is Bill Simmons preferred destination because of the package the Knickerbockers could offer. Rondo would be the perfect complement to Carmelo and instantly the best point guard he’s ever played with (Chauncey Billups is Rondo’s equivalent as a player but not really a point guard). The roster isn’t great, but not completely devoid of talent. A back court of Rondo, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Pigroni, JR Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. is not bad (it’s not good either). Their front court is just a dumpster fire of guys who are either washed up or less-than-talented young guys, except for Carmelo of course.

The other issue is that the triangle is not the best offense for traditional(ish) point guards and Boston would have to trade him within the division. Let’s keep looking.

Los Angeles Lakers

Not many teammates have meshed well with the Black Mamba and Rondo’s temperament does not seem to be a good fit, but he’s a pass first point guard who can take some of Bryant’s tougher assignments on defense. Kobe would probably kill half the Lakers roster if it meant Rondo was on the way.

As long as the one guy he doesn’t murder isn’t Julius Randle. I like Jeremy Lin but there is so little upside on this Laker roster. Kobe is going to have to score 25 a game to have them sniff .500. Plus, it’s even less likely that the Celtics would trade with the Lake show than the Knicks.

Charlotte Hornets

Rondo would make an interesting young team even better, possibly pushes them to a place where they’re fighting with Washington for second place in the east. It would also be a crappy-Celtics reunion with Al Jefferson.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings need to get a little lucky. They need Ben McLemore (STL!), Derrick Williams, Nik Stauskas, and perhaps even Ray McCallum to show that they are competent NBA rotation players. If three out of the four hit, I think Sac-town’s new owner might pull the trigger on a trade. But, that’s a lot of juries out on quite a few players. Still, the Rondo, Boogie Cousins and Rudy Gay big 3 is an intriguing triumvirate.

The Cousins-Rondo combo would inspire a psychological study. I think the two former Kentucky Wildcats are emotionally similar and thus will either be best of friends or hard-boiled enemies.

Golden State Warriors

Adding Rondo would make an already good team into a potential juggernaut. Ideally you would play Rondo, Curry, Thompson, David Lee and Bogut at the same time and bring Andre Iguodala off the pine. However, it’s a question of what the Warriors can give up. Would they need to part with Thompson, something they were unwilling to do when Kevin Love was on the table, who in fairness is a better overall player than Rondo?

Oklahoma City Thunder

To make this work, where the Celtics would accept it from a basketball perspective, the Thunder would have to give up Reggie Jackson and probably two other young players — candidates include Mitch McGary, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Roberson (?). The Thunder do not have a lot to offer. And they would have to play Russell Westbrook at the 2.

I suggest this because I think playing Westbrook at the 2 is exactly what the Thunder should do, even with playing Jackson at the point. A. It gives Westbrook a break from time to time. B. It cuts down on the oh my God what the Hell did Westbrook just do moments. And if Rondo was the player taking over the point, he would snap Westbrook into shape:

“Do you know what you have? Kevin Durant is a scoring machine; German scientists couldn’t genetically engineer a person better suited to put basketballs through hoops. We’re giving him the ball and we’re going to win games.”

Imagine how beastly the Thunder would be with Rondo, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka on D? It would be like a Chinese finger trap with teeth.

Miami Heat

The Heat really don’t have any trade chips. Their starting five — Mario Chalmers, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Josh McRoberts — is interesting but their bench does not offer much. However, I think Rondo could get them back to title contention territory and maybe squeeze just a little bit of life out of Wade’s tired legs with some easy buckets. Side note, I hope Wade isn’t completely done.

Houston Rockets

What I believe is the best option. I think Houston, with the players they have, can put together some type of package the Celtics would accept. Rondo adds the last piece of the big three the Rockets have been searching for and is better fit than Carmelo would have been. Of course to get the most out of that three, they would have to run … a lot, something I’m not sure Dwight Howard wants to do. Maybe it would work if you lined the rim with candy.