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Thunder need to be patient, let Westbrook grow into PG they need

May 26, 2011, 4:02 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five Getty Images

People’s impatience is amazing.

The Oklahoma City Thunder just went to the Western Conference Finals with a team that had none of its core players over age 22. They are athletic, they played with passion, and while they struggled under the weight of the moment and Mavericks, that is how teams learn to win. Does anybody remember the three straight years the Detroit Pistons whipped Michael Jordan’s Bulls? Young teams can grow from these experiences.

But people are amazing — across the Web and even on ESPN there were people suggesting it was time to consider moving Russell Westbrook for a “real” point guard. Because freakish athletes who are Second Team All NBA grow on trees, I guess. Because trading part of a team’s emotional core is a good idea (right Celtics?).

Russell Westbrook is a 22-year-old who didn’t play point guard until his last year at UCLA, a guy who gave you 21.9 points per game and had a better than 2/1 assist to turnover ration during the season, a guy with room to grow, and you’re going to send him out because his flaws were exposed in the NBA’s final four?

That kind of knee jerk reaction is how you end up with an Isiah Thomas Knicks roster.

Relax. Westbrook is smart, passionate and wants to win. He learned hard lessons these playoffs, but he learned. And it games like Game 7 against Memphis he showed what his future looks like (putting up a triple double).

You just have to let him get there.

Do you want to judge Westbrook after two trips to the playoffs? In Kobe Bryant’s second trip to the playoffs he shot 40.8 percent overall, 21.4 percent from three and had a PER of 12.8 (Westbrook’s was 19.6). Michael Jordan was knocked out in the first round his first two playoff trips.

Different situations and eras, to be sure. But you don’t judge just how good someone can be yet.

Shawn Marion, who has been around a while, understands that while Westbrook made some poor decisions he was forced into other ones, as he told CBSSports Eye On Basketball.

“He didn’t have any choice but to shoot some of those shots, because we were denying everybody else the ball,” he said. “When you deny everybody else from catching the ball, he ain’t got no choice but to go one-on-one.

“Don’t talk bad about that man, because he’s competing out there and he’s playing hard on both ends of the floor. When you deny people from catching the ball, he’s got no choice but to shoot it. Don’t kill him. I don’t like that. He is out there playing hard and competing.”

Look at the Thunder’s off-the-ball movement this series. Everyone — Kevin Durant included — needs to work on getting open, working off screens. A lot of execution issues. Westbrook deserves some heat for his play, he can get some heat for not reacting well after the loss. He and the team need to mature.

But he’s 22. Give him a chance. He’s already shown great improvement every year, why assume that has stopped?

Look what one smart NBA executive told Sekou Smith at NBA.com.

“These people talking about trading this kid and him not being a winner are out of their minds,” an Eastern Conference executive told me before Game 5 of the conference finals. “You don’t ignore the strides he’s made and the things he’s done at this stage of his career and assume he won’t improve and work to make his game better. They should know better, writing off a young guy like this so soon. It’s the hardest position in the league to play, the hardest to learn and the most difficult to manage and maintain. These same people who talk about getting rid of him must have forgotten about guys like Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups, who faced similar criticisms early in their careers and you see how that worked out. But you can’t compare and contrast him with Jason Kidd, who is one of the best to ever play the position. That’s just not fair the kid.”

  1. digitalpoo - May 26, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Great article Kurt.

  2. denverhoopdreams - May 26, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    What I noticed is how this little punk was the first Thunder player off the court after the game, and I love how he looked behind him to see who was there and NO ONE WAS. Harden, Durant, Ibaka, all of them were out on the court congratulating the Mavs before they got off the court.

    I personally think Westbrook could’ve used 2-3 minutes with Kidd and Barea(another young player), to see what they had to say.

    He’s good, don’t get me wrong. He just has personality problems.

    • digitalpoo - May 26, 2011 at 4:23 PM

      He’s still a kid. He’ll look back an regret it, sure. Hopefully he’ll grow up in the next year or two. But he’ll no doubt continue to improve as a player.

      • denverhoopdreams - May 26, 2011 at 4:25 PM

        Of course, great players don’t always have the best personalities. I know this. I just had to add my color commentary. Sure you could’ve said post game you weren’t happy they won, but show some sportsmanship?

      • jd - May 26, 2011 at 5:06 PM

        Completely agree. Durant is the same age and shows nothing but class. Westbrook is just a jerk.

  3. sknut - May 26, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    OKC could use one more veteran but to give up on him already is a bit silly. OKC is taking the path to success that teams before them have, if they had lost in the second round this talk wouldn’t even surface.

  4. denverhoopdreams - May 26, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    I wonder when Perkins is going to have a big game?

  5. supermattbjorke - May 26, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    Rubio for westbrook #Anyday.

    • digitalpoo - May 26, 2011 at 4:58 PM

      I think I just threw up in my mouth.

      • slopmcflop - May 26, 2011 at 5:36 PM

        I think I just threw up in your mouth too

  6. thestudiokida - May 26, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    Westbrook definitely turned in some poor performances in the playoffs, but he’s young and inexperienced. Considering he played shooting guard in college I think he has transitioned well into a point guard.

    One thing I haven’t heard is anybody questioning Scott Brooks. I still can’t believe they blew a 99-84 lead in Game 4. The offense disappeared. The more I watch the Thunder the more I see the offense inexplicably disappear for half a quarter at a time. And offense has been their stronger side of the ball. So why aren’t we asking Scott Brooks why he can’t diagram a play coming out of a timeout? The Thunder always have a horrible possession at the end of a quarter… they might be wise to keep an eye out for quality coaches with playoff experience.

  7. andrejohnsonforpresident - May 26, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Jason kidd should have confronted westbrook during his post game interview. He should have gone up and done the whisper in the ear dont give up thing like they do on the court. yea yea I know too crazy never would have happened.. Imagine though, would be crazy cool to see that happening and the media would eat it up for years!

    • denverhoopdreams - May 26, 2011 at 6:46 PM

      This is what I was getting at, that Westbrook should have talked to Kidd, but it would’ve been great if Kidd would’ve sought him out.

  8. andrejohnsonforpresident - May 26, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    o an westbrook is gonna be a monster one day, no doubt about it. This kid is gonna end his career with a ring. Heck maybe even two.

  9. sprest83 - May 26, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    I don’t know a whole lot about the guy, but I watched the entire series and noticed that I wouldn’t want Westbrook on my team at all. He doesn’t play in the system or team ball. If don’t see him on their team in the future…personally I would trade him.

  10. sprest83 - May 26, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    And he his very unsportsmanlike.

  11. nfl25 - May 26, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    westbrooke seems like he is his worst enemy. he seems frustrated when the smallest things go worng. and it def seemed to chnage his game. he is money when he just relaxes and plays his game. i have only watched a few games of okc so it could just be those games.

  12. philabadboy - May 26, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Ok WestBrook is young that’s all im giving him .. a bone head thats who he is.. taking more shots that the Main Guy–Bonehead,
    averaging less than 8-9 assists as the point guard– bonehead,
    Blaming the team for not running a play right— bonehead,
    you are an NBA player you have enough common sense to know it is not all about you.. it is about the TEAM.. until he comes to that realization he will not have the success he deserves.

  13. ohkhan - May 26, 2011 at 6:51 PM

    cp3 may want out of new orleans. pure pg. westbrook is a great young talent. any chance of a swap involving those guys? i know its farfetched, but cp3 is a true pass first pg, who would probably work better with durant and co.

  14. smitheye - May 26, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    Awful article. Letting him grow? You’re kidding me right? Russell Westbrook is a disease, he’s a “me” first player. He doesn’t know how to play the point guard position correctly and never will. Nothing but selfishness.

  15. jaypace - May 27, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    Durant took more shots in the series with the mavs. Why would you trade a 2nd team all pro. Athletic scoring point guards do not grow on trees. It is up to Scott brooks to coach him up. Trade him for whom? All of you genius gm’s out there that seem to know his personality and that he has now room for growth after his second playoff appearance. Get it together people. You heard from a guy playing on the opposing team say we took away his other options. Now I’m not saying that he made the best decisions but he is young. And I also suppose no one has ever been upset after a loss and walked off, sometimes your emotions get the best of you.

  16. dgbk - May 27, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    The problem was eric maynor waving ppl off when at best he was the 4th best player on the court……. Westbrook is not the only issue with this team when reserves want to be like mike…brooks is to blame for some of this if not most…okc will be dumb if they change anything other bring in another shooter.

  17. smitheye - May 27, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Jaypace…. 2nd team all pro means absolutely nothing. Like Bill Belichick says… “stats are for losers” and you my friend fall into that category. You can’t coach up a player who is “me” first and pouts when he doesn’t get his way. Get off your high horse and come down to reality.

  18. dohpey28 - May 27, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    If I am the Thunder I call up NO and offer some kind of package involving Westbrook for Paul. Chris Paul would be about the only player they could trade Westbrook for that the locals wouldn’t mind. He has played in OKC before, is a top point guard, and would be a better fit then the score first headcase Westbrook has proven to be.

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