Thunder Keep Rolling Despite Westbrook’s Struggles

The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be the majority pick to represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals. They’re definitely my pick and a 3-0 start helps back up the prediction, but they haven’t resolved one of the biggest issues that kept them from the finals last year: the inconsistent play and immaturity of point guard Russell Westbrook.

There’s no doubt that Westbrook is an All-Star caliber player and one of the best scorers in the NBA, but sometimes he has games that just make you scratch your head. Last night was one of those games. Westbrook shot 0-13 from the floor for the game, scoring 4 points and adding 6 assists and 4 turnovers.

There may have been some factors that threw Westbrook off his game. The Oklahoman is reporting that he and teammate Kevin Durant got into a bit of an altercation in the second quarter.

“Westbrook’s frustration appeared to have started with just 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter when he drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Thabo Sefolosha in the corner. Sefolosha passed up a wide open 3-pointer, which prompted Westbrook to yell at Sefolosha “shoot the (expletive) ball.”

Sefolosha and other teammates, including Durant and center Kendrick Perkins attempted to calm Westbrook down immediately during an ensuing trip to the free throw line. But the emotions spilled over to the bench one minute later.

Durant appeared to again settle Westbrook, but Westbrook appeared to take exception to how Durant delivered his message. The two began shouting at each other and had to be separated.”

This isn’t the first time Durant and Westbrook have gotten into it, and it won’t be the last. This little disagreement may have set the tone for the rest of Westbrook’s game.

It’s not even that the point guard had a bad shooting night, it’s that he tries to shoot himself out of the slump when he doesn’t need to. He has the NBA 2-time scoring champ on his team, and he’s the point guard. All he has to do is get Durant the ball, but instead he keeps it for himself, it’s a terrible decision. During the closing minutes of last night’s 98-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder were up by double figures, but the Grizz were able to climb back into the game because Westbrook kept missing open jumpers. Durant had only missed one shot in the second half and he was scoring whenever he wanted, but Westbrook continued to hold the ball for himself, almost costing the Thunder the game.

Westbrook also had 4 turnovers in the game, bringing his total for the year to 18. Last year, Westbrook’s assist to turnover ratio was just over 2, and this year it’s sitting at exactly 1, 18 turnovers and 18 assists. Awful numbers for a point guard.

To go along with his offensive struggles, Westbrook let the team down on the defensive end as well. The Grizzlies’ starting point guard, Mike Conley, went down on the first play of the game with an ankle injury, so rookie Jeremy Pargo had to play most of the minutes. Pargo had 15 points and 7 assists and at times it looked like he was totally unguarded. He had a breakout game because of Westbrook’s lack of defense.

Watching the game last night instantly brought to mind the Thunder’s last 2 playoff exits. It seemed like Westbrook was just holding the team back, like he was in his own little world doing what he wanted. If the Thunder really want to make that championship push, they’re going to have to get the reins on Russell Westbrook fast.

So how were the Thunder able to beat a Memphis team that didn’t look that bad? Well for one, Kevin Durant had an unbelievable second half. After starting the game 1-7, Durant went 9-10 from the field, finishing with 32 points. Combined with 20 points from James Harden off the bench, the Thunder were able to squeak out a win. Harden gets my early vote for 6th man of the year. I honestly think he should be in the starting lineup, but he brings a real spark off the bench, and he’s a very talented player.

The Thunder are such a complete team from top to bottom, it would be a shame if they were brought down again by some inconsistent play from their point guard. It’s just unfortunate because Westbrook would be so much more of an asset to his team if he didn’t feel obligated to do so much. He needs to learn to be a true point guard, then we’ll see the Thunder in the NBA Finals.