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

Death to the big 3 model

lebron_vsGS

I irrationally hate the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s weird because I was definitely part of the club last summer that wanted LeBron to go back home, in part because the good people of Cleveland deserve a championship. Logically I still feel that way, but I hated watching them in the early part of the year — the way Blatt and coach LeBron have used Kevin Love is still frustrating and I think that is carrying over to the Mosgov era.

I found myself rooting hard for Golden State in the game on Thursday and then LeBron went apes**** in the third quarter to allow the Cavs to pull away. Even though the Cavs are entertaining now, I’m going to root against them all playoffs. What I dislike is the way the Cavs were assembled — they were atrocious every season after LeBron left, lucked their way into three number one picks and only got two right but still convinced LeBron to come back and form a new big three.

Nothing would put the nail in the coffin of the big three era like a Golden State and Atlanta finals this year. Actually, any team in the west besides the Thunder would drive that point home.

Kevin Durant is my boy; I’ve loved his game since college. Westbrook, because I can’t ignore his amazing play, is growing on me. Sam Presti also put the Thunder together the right way — he got all of his top picks right, let the team grow and has assembled a pretty good supporting cast now: Steven Adams, Enes Canter, DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler (although I still dislike Singler and Josh McRoberts from their days at Duke; Oddly enough, I let that go for Kansas guys but it lingers for Duke white guys).

But if the Thunder are able to vault themselves out of the 8th or 7th seed, it tells the whole league — “You know what, everybody was right, you need at least one superstar.”

Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis, Washington, Toronto, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Portland and The Clippers are all assembled as teams not a big three and scrubs. Yes obviously Dirk and Duncan are lasting superstars, Curry and Thompson are amazing, and CP3 and Blake are just at the tail end of their prime together, but the narrative has never been — with any of those guys — this guy or tandem will carry you to a title without any help.

sad_76rs

This all relates to the tankapalooza going on in Philadelphia — the league’s most egregious but not only case of front-office designed tanking. Philly GM Sam Hinkie just traded his best player, Michael Carter Williams, for the Laker’s draft pick he is hoping will fall just outside of the top five. The fly in the ointment is that the Lakeshow are also aggressively tanking. So are the Knicks and kind of Boston. Hinkie also gave away KJ McDaniels, who people tend to like.

As a fan, I agree with what Hinkie is doing. There is a model throughout sports that shows that one of the best ways to build a title contender is to suffer a few years of awful. The Tigers in the early 2000s and recently the Royals have shown that this works. However, in baseball, you can easily recognize that teams are waiting for their young players to come around. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are on the precipice of those young pedigreed guys making an impact.

That has not been the case for the Sixers. Everybody thought MCW was a piece of the future and then they dumped him. Embiid and Noel are building blocks but Embiid has not played yet. I think what happens in this years playoffs could inspire Philly to speed things up.

They have their pick, and they have a pick from the Heat if it falls out of the top 10 (a safe bet). If the lottery works out the way it should based on record, Philly would have the No. 2 pick and pick No. 16. Let’s say they pick Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU at 2 (if they like him, it might be part of the reason to get rid of MCW) and Jerian Grant from Notre Dame (his brother is already on the team) at 16. With the two big guys and a veteran wing, that’s a good enough starting five (in an on paper, potential sort of way; I see Grant as a 2 in this scenario) to at least see how they play with each other. If they get the Lakers’ pick this year — in the 6 to 10 range — Kelly Oubre from Kansas makes sense and now you have a potential future starting five. That is unless the two bigs can’t play at the same time and then I would suggest drafting Frank Kaminsky with Miami’s pick.

But if a Thunder and Cavs finals happens, then its oh my God, we need at least two superstars, I could see Hinkie trading Noel for picks.

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.