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Time to get off Russell Westbrook’s back, it’s not his fault

Jun 16, 2012, 3:22 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder – Game Two Getty Images

Whenever the Thunder lose, like they did in Game 2 Thursday night, the blame falls quickly on Russell Westbrook. He started 1-7 shooting with just one assist as the Thunder fell behind 18-2 to open the game. A hole they could never get out of.

If he would just stop taking shots away from Durant, if he would just be a more traditional point guard, if he…

Stop it. That means you, Magic Johnson. You are missing the point on the Thunder’s team dynamic. And the Game 2 loss is not Westbrook’s fault.

People need to stop trying to make Westbrook into what he is not and appreciate what he is. Here is Thunder coach Scott Brook’s comment, from the twitter of Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman.

“He’s never going to be John Stockton. He’s never going to be Mo Cheeks (one of Brooks’ assistant coaches),” he said “But there are a lot of players out there who are never going to be Russell Westbrook.”

Let me be blunt — this team would not be better with Mo Cheeks or even John Stockton at the helm. Because what the Thunder have to have to win is a dynamic scorer next to Durant, not just more shots for Durant.

Don’t believe me? From ESPN’s Dean Oliver (one of the gurus of advanced stats for basketball):

In fact, the refrain that “he takes away too many shots from Durant” has been a commonly heard criticism of Westbrook all season. The problem with this attack is that the numbers show that the Thunder haven’t actually done better in games where Durant has had more opportunities than Westbrook this season….

For some perspective, the average usage percentage (number of possession a player uses per game) is 20.0 percent, Durant’s average this season is 30.3 percent, and Westbrook’s average is 31.7 percent (5th-highest in NBA)….

The Thunder offense is at its worst when Durant has an above average usage percentage and Westbrook has a below average usage percentage – averaging just 104.0 points per 100 possessions in those 20 games, with the team winning less than half of those as a result.

Right now, Kevin Durant is an efficient scorer because he doesn’t have to do all the scoring. He has Westbrook, he has James Harden, some nights other guys step up. Remove Westbrook from the equation and Durant is now forced to take shots he currently passes up as not good enough, not open enough. You don’t score at a high rate on those shots. Durant would be less efficient and the Thunder would suffer.

Interestingly, Oliver notes that the Thunder are at their best when both Westbrook and Durant use fewer possessions than normal. Those are the games where James Harden or some other player stepped up for the Thunder, taking the scoring burden off both of the big stars.

There are nights Westbrook is going to miss shots, like any other scorer. But the man does pass — he has assisted on 28.9 percent of his teammates baskets when he has been on the floor these playoffs. Remember some of those plays, like late in Game 2 when he passed up a good look 15 footer on the baseline to feed Durant in the corner. He will make the basketball play.

The fact of the matter is if the Thunder are going to come back and win Game 3 in Miami Sunday, it will be because Westbrook was shooting and scoring. A lot. Not just passing. He has to be himself.

And we should appreciate him for what he is.

  1. trybe29dr - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:27 AM

    Actually magic is right. While westbrick has improved his shooting hes still a liability at times. He can shoot OKC out of a game…plus he looks like a ninja turtle

    • angulocarlos1 - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:54 AM

      Lol! Ninja turtle :D

    • angulocarlos1 - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:49 AM

      You know what I hadn’t had in a while? Big league chew…

    • connaniii - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:11 AM

      A liability you call the fifth top scorer in the league? and let’s not forget he’s been averaging slightly over two misshandles per game in the playoffs which ain’t too shaby sort of speak for a PG.

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:20 AM

        Scorers can be a liability… Look at how Melo was in the running of league leading scorer many times in his career. Dude is a complete liability for any team.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:48 AM

      Heat fans can’t believe there’s a player other than LBJ who is getting this type of ridiculous treatment. Westbrook is awesome. He absolutely scares the crap out of me. He can’t be guarded. And Thunder (or Anti-Heat) fan thinks he’s the problem? Man, you guys are idiots.

      BUT, that being said; PLEASE keep pounding on Westbrook in the papers and talk radio. Bring it on him, and bring it on him good. Please get in his head. Please make him tentative.

      OKC is a beast. I’ve called them a Bionic Octopus with 10 legs, and all the legs can shoot, defend, and run. If the Heat are going to win this series, weird things have to happen, like Westbrook not playing like Westbrook; so please, by all means, keep up the good work trybe29d, denverhoopsdream, trollaikman8, jaypace, and all the others.

      • finalword33 - Jun 16, 2012 at 7:58 PM

        Miami just beat OKC with Westbrook playing like Westbrook, so…he or they all are going to have to do more.

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2012 at 12:54 PM

        Happy Fathers day ’72. Just for you I reserved 2006wasalongtimeago. Enjoy your day.

  2. trollaikman8 - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    That goddamn ninja turtle cost them the game, hands down. Never mind his brick-after-brick with 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock…..he had epic turnovers and shutdown Harden and Durant by himself.

    Dude is an idiot and a liability. He can’t guard Wade nor James, on the opposite end.
    Magic Johnson knows wtf he’s talking about. If Fisher plays the majority of those PG minutes, OKC wins by 14.

    • scalfor3 - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:58 PM

      wait…did you actually say the thunder would be better off playing fisher than westbrook?

      seriously?

      ok….

    • rooney24 - Jun 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM

      Troll loses any and all credibility when you try to claim they would be better off with Fisher than Westbrook. And, stop with the lame ninja turtle crap, no one agrees with you on that one.

  3. spectacular2k4 - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    Westbrook is the key for the heat to win. Lol….

  4. angulocarlos1 - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    God I hate westbrooks face

  5. thetruth702 - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    did you really just say that team would bot be better woth Stockton??? was that a joke?!!??! you would take westbrook over a Hall of Famer. no i know why i never take you bloggers seriously.

    • yourfutureanalyst1 - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:42 AM

      If you understand the type of PG Stockton was, vs Westbrook you would understand why Stockton probably wouldn’t work with Durant. Just b/c he’s a Hall of Famer doesn’t mean he fits with every player. The Thunder offense more than likely would not fit with a player like Stockton, maybe Isaiah Thomas, or even Tim Hardaway. The point is Westbrook does and doesn’t make sense at times. He could choose better shots, but at the same time on an offense where you have 3 primary scorers in Westbrook, Durant and Harden he has to take his shots. Durant is never going to take all of the shots that Westbrook could pass his way simply b/c he isn’t that type of player. I’m not giving Westbrook a pass, but in the end if the Thunder are winning it’s b/c Durant and Westbrook are taking shots.

  6. jaypace - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    If the team had a more tradition point guard guys like ibaka and Perkins could get easy baskets also taking the scoring load off durant. Fact is if okc had rondo as its pg they would be better. A guy that gets everybody involved and may also get you a triple double. Harden could pick up scoring slack. Russell Westbrook is Allen iverson 2.0. Can score but needs too many shots.

  7. itsthemelman82 - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:34 AM

    Magic was a great player, terrific businessman but I CAN’T STAND HIM AS AN ANALYST. He’s wrong, Stephen A. Smith is wrong & anyone without a clue of what OKC does on offense is wrong! When he’s aggressive it creates easier shots for everyone including KD. Durant is still the man on that team but Russ & Harden need to get touches too. And before anyone says “oh you think you know better then Magic?” check his brief coaching record. OKC has been winning this way & will keep winning that way.

  8. matthewlmejia - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:55 AM

    When KD shoots more it’s because they need him to shoot more. They are playing a bettet team and therefore more likely to lose anyway. And Westbrook shooting 10-26 only works when they play teams that are below average. After Westbrook gets them in a hole, KD has to make up for it by taking over in the 2nd half. And again the Thunder are less likely to win when they are playing better teams. Plus allowing Westbrook to dig a huge hole. It’s amazing that KD can pull off as many come back victories as he already has. Let him take over from the beginning and it will be scary how good they are. Long story short, trade Westbrook and the Thunder will be better off. Him and another big name, not KD, would be great value for Dwight Howard! But not going to happen

  9. rickyspanish - Jun 16, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    angulocarlos1

    Your Westbrook comments are great, they make me laugh every time.

    That part about Stockton has to be some of the most delusional words Helin has written.

    jayspace brought the truth, Rondo would make the Thunder better than they already are. Westbrook is awesome, he deserves to be the number one option on a team.

  10. narrabeen23 - Jun 16, 2012 at 5:55 AM

    Did anyone else see Donatello Westbrook go hoodrat after the final play where durant should’ve gone to the line? it was priceless lol.

    “Yo Ref, KD was fouled! F— Man!”

    and then that hoodrat stare where his upper lip turns up like an Andy Kaufman Elvis impersonation lol

    • connaniii - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:19 AM

      Wtf what are you? Gay? with no offense meant to gay people, what is this fix you gus have with Westbrook’s face? Leave the guy alone or do you all look like Brad Pitt?

      • narrabeen23 - Jun 16, 2012 at 9:58 AM

        So the angle you decided to go with here was to stick up for Westbrook by calling the rest of us gay? Your sensitive ridicule was artful my friend. Lol

      • censoredpost - Jun 16, 2012 at 11:05 AM

        Whats your problem with Brad? Great actor and all, hotwife, etc. We don’t all look like him and we sure don’t look like Russel “Raphael” Westbrook. The talented but hotheaded turtle that gets his team in trouble all too often.

  11. ch8878 - Jun 16, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Hes a ball hog flat out he got other people involved game 1 they won, hogged the ball game 2 they lost is it really that hard to figure out point guards need to get other players open shots.

    We need the passing version of Westbrook not the Kobe Bryant version.

  12. isujames - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    If OKC had C paul, Rondo,Stockton, or whatever other traditonal pg they would still lose to MIA because MIA is THE BETTER TEAM.What part of that statment don’t you guys get.THEY HAVE TWO OF THE TOP 5 PLAYERS ON THEIR TEAM IN THE NBA.They have the best big three tandem and if all three of them contribute the way they can, similar to game two, with contributions from the bench,NO ONE IN THE NBA CAN BEAT THEM, end of discussion.

    • lucky5934 - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:23 AM

      Just like a Heat fan to get over excited about one win. First of all, If OKC can win in San Antonio, they can win in Miami. So don’t get too cocky yet. Secondly, Wade is not a top five player at this point in his career. Top ten, perhaps. Top 15 definitely, but I wouldn’t even say he is the 2nd best player on his own team. So I hope you were not referring to Wade as the second of the top five players. Finally, I heard Heat fans say last year they were the best team, etc… Win three games in this series and brag as much as you want. Until then… get off your high horse and pray that Spoelstra can pull three more magic tricks out of his back side.

      In regards to the actual article… It is a tough call about who would help them better. We can’t automatically assume Harden would be better as a starter. Some players thrive off of coming off the bench. Westbrook is an explosive scorer who will mature as a leader over the next few years. Outside of Durant, Westbrook is that other explosive scoring threat the Thunder need to balance out their offense. Yes, Stockton would be good, as would Rondo. But I like Westbrook as a player. Even though I would like to see him get more people involved in the offense.

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 16, 2012 at 9:56 AM

      They can’t contribute consistently. You can’t count on the Heat to show up for every game. And because of that, the Thunder will win.

  13. mjacobs45 - Jun 16, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Funny you didn’t mention the shooting percentages. Taking 25+ shots and shooting 40% is never good. And this team with Stockton would be light years better.

    • connaniii - Jun 16, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      It all depends what kind of a player we´re all taking about here and this goes beyond what position that player plays, in Westbrooks case he´s atypical for his position, I mean a PG´s main duty should be to distribute the ball and make the team go, but then again Magic Johnson one of the game´s greatest player of all time was considered an offensive force who played the point position and nobody complained! I know Westbrook who´s only on his third year in the league is too young and too inexperience to be compared to Magic, besides he´s only 6´3 which won´t allow him him to post anyone unless we´re talking about a “small” guard. Nevertheless Westbrook´s offense rides on his athleticism, speed and jumping ability. As far as basketball smarts he has a lot to learn, so in that respect I don´t believe he´ll ever be a Derrick Rose, but scoring wise just remember he finished ahead of Wade and Nowitzky in league play this year.

  14. tomtravis76 - Jun 16, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    If Westbrook was a “ball hog” why did Durant lead the league in scoring? Westrook is still developing his game. I cant imagine him lasting in OKC beyond this contract, especially if they win a few titles in OKC.

    NBA needs to go ahead and change this series to first team to 10 wins gets tthe title. I

  15. charlutes - Jun 16, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I’m with you on Westbrook. he’s a fantastic player and a rare talent. I do think Kevin Durant should take more shots over Westbrook in key moments however. If you watch Durant’s body language he clearly clearly wants the ball when he’s hot and Westbrook will take the shot instead.

  16. scalfor3 - Jun 16, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    with westbrook the issue isn’t as much the number of shots as it is the selection of some of them. a possession where he dribbles down the court and pulls up at 20 feet with 20 seconds on the shot clock is a wasted possession. he’s a guy who should be shooting alot, he’s an explosive offensive weapon, but sometimes he needs to pick his spots better. he didnt single handedly shoot them into that 18-2 deficit game 2, and he did come up huge in their comeback

    • crankitupalevel - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      Big, big, comment. True as the day is long.

  17. canehouse - Jun 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Without Westbrook… OKC would have got run out of the building… he is a special player that cannot be throttled.

    • finalword33 - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      Definitely, but for the Heat, I’d rather the ball be in his hands than Durant’s.

  18. astrosfan75956 - Jun 16, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I disagree, they would be better with Stockton.

  19. abasketballthing - Jun 16, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Kurt’s argument completely ignores the fact that if the Thunder had Stockton setting up everybody else, there would be more spacing because of his shooting, and, more importantly, he’d get Durant and Harden many more good shots than they get now with Westbrook.

    • dal24la - Jun 16, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      Agreed. Kurt completely lost me when he said “this team would not be better John Stockton”.
      No team would be hurt by having a HOF PG.

  20. LPad - Jun 16, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    KD gets between 20 and 30 shots a game and he gets shots in crunch time. Exactly, how many shots does he need?

    • itsthemelman82 - Jun 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM

      Finally, someone made some sense!

  21. bdotgdot - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    Meh, this wouldn’t be an issue if Scott Brooks would figure out how to keep Shane Battier from being an offensive force in this series. He’s scored 17 in each of the first two games. Sorry but when a guy like Shane Battier is scoring like that, hitting 3s like he is, AND doing what he does at the other end of the floor, you’re gonna be lucky to beat the Heat. You have to keep guys like Battier one-dimensional. Scott Brooks hasn’t figured that out yet. Now we’re in Miami where the role players shoot better…. I wouldn’t be surprised if the backdoor sweep happens, although I expect OKC to get at least one of these next 3.

  22. crankitupalevel - Jun 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    All discussion about Stockton, et al, aside – since context is important here, folks, Westbrook is that amalgam of basketball talent – can do most everything but lives on the edge. I played basketball for 55 years as a 5’10” power forward (yeah, right, you get it), and I’m here to tell you that those players who don’t push the envelope don’t advance the game. I don’t like Westbrook, but not because he is not an incredible player. He is a nightmare to guard – can you envision anybody beating him one-on-one? I know, not the game in question. Here is my reason OKC will not win the championship, and it is related to Westbrook. It’s about attitude. If you’ve played – and I’m assuming most of us have played – you know what an opponent’s attitude will do to you. If they were playing Boston, ok, maybe Boston would cave. Ain’t no freakin way Miami is gonna cave. It’s a mistake to shake your finger in anybody on the Heat’s face – they simply aren’t old enough to swallow it. They still are driven by an admixture of piss/vinegar and experience. No Miami starter is old enough to put their faith in their experience alone (ok, maybe Battier, but I hated him as a Laker’s opponent and love him as a Miamian). Truth (true is) OKC isn’t tough enough yet. When Westbrook gets a year or two older, maybe he’ll stop pissing the opponent off (very, very bad move – we all know how hard we play when our cojones are on the line). Magic was so successful not just because of his talent – he simply didn’t care to get into macho issues. The dude just played the crap out of the game. Westbrook has the ability IF he can shift the finger-in-your-face attitude to a -check-out-the-score attitude..

  23. going4iton4th - Jun 17, 2012 at 1:10 AM

    Westbrook is a volume shooter. What are you going to do? Tell him to shoot less? He’ll get his points and take the pressure of Durant. He’ll never be your typical guard but you have to give Brooks credit for not being too difficult to work with!

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