Blog Entry

What's at Stake: Russell Westbrook

Posted on: May 16, 2011 6:50 pm
Posted by Royce Young

A 22-year-old third-year point guard playing in his second postseason ever -- there should be a little leeway for him, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

In Russell Westbrook's world, the microscope zeroed in on him so hard that during the Thunder's seven-game series win over the Grizzlies, almost every shot he took -- even the good ones -- we critiqued and criticized.

It's true. His usage is up, he's taking more shots than usual, his assists are down and in critical moments, he tended to call his own number over his superstar teammate, Kevin Durant.

But as Westbrook proved with his downright spectacular triple-double in Game 7 versus Memphis, he's completely capable of still being the All-Star point man he was this season. Don't forget: Westbrook had a season almost entirely comparable to MVP Derrick Rose's. It's just when the postseason lights came on, everyone expected him to change or something. Everyone expected him to forget that he's the Thunder's second best scorer and one of the 10 best in the league. Everyone wanted him to be something he's not.

Westbrook though, never wavered. He stood firm, kept playing his game and as he said after Game 7, wasn't about to care what "you guys" had to say. ("You guys" being the media, of course.) It's funny because most looked at Westbrook's Game 7 and used it to slap a backhand compliment on him. See, play like that!

But really, I'm not sure Westbrook played all that much different. I've always maintained that when you're open, Russell Westbrook will find you. And that was what the Thunder's young point guard was working with in Game 7 -- open teammates. Scott Brooks made a slight adjustment to get more weakside action going with some good pick-and-roll stuff with Durant. It opened up more movement, more screening and more good looks. Westbrook took 14 shots and and made just four, but was universally praised for his game.

Here's the thing though: The Thunder needs that Westbrook for sure against Dallas, but they also need the one that's a threat to score 20 points. Oklahoma City's not advancing without Westbrook scoring the ball some. The Thunder didn't win 55 games and get this far with Westbrook doing his best Rajon Rondo impression. He's a score-first point man and that's the guy the Thunder ride, and die, with.

Westbrook took most of the criticism in stride, never lashing out. His teammates defended him, his coach backed him up, but Westbrook did what he always does -- played his game. Both on floor and off. Against the Mavericks, I have no doubt that there will be more ups and downs. Westbrook absolutely will not play a perfect series against the Mavericks. If he does, pencil the Thunder into The Finals.

There will be good nights and some nights that provoke discussion. It's the Russell Westbrook Way. But if he plays well at least four times -- whether it be scoring the ball or dropping triple-doubles -- the Thunder can, and likely will, advance past Dallas. A lot with the Thunder starts with Westbrook, and very well could end there too.
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