The ball was inbounded to Danny Green a few feet back form the top of the key. Tony Parker started from the right side of the court, near the baseline. He took a few steps towards the left side of the court, hesitated towards the way he came, and sprinted full throttle to the left elbow. Green fed him perfectly, and Parker only needed one dribble to get to the spot he wanted, where he pulled up for the jumper. Serge Ibaka jumped while fully extending his right arm. There was too much space. The ball hit nothing but nylon as time expired. And Russell Westbrook was on the other side of the court.
Maybe he saw a funny sign being held by some fans. Perhaps he was thinking of what multi-thousand dollar meal he would buy in San Antonio that night. Whatever it may be, Westbrook wouldn’t give up the true reason he ended up, what, twenty feet away from his man?
“I got lost.”
Huh? You got lost Russ? Were you hiking in the Rockies without a map, or trying to find the closest Burger King in Manhattan without your iPhone?
Now I’m not trying to put all of the blame on Westbrook for this Thunder lost, that would be unjust. Kevin Durant came for the ball in such a soft manner just the play before that Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard managed to jump in and swat the ball away, gaining possession for San Antonio. Serge Ibaka was simply toyed with by Tim Duncan all night, giving up 20 points. Oklahoma City turned the ball over 18 times, coming off a season where they led the league in turnovers per game. They shot a measly 37% from the field. Point is, you can’t simply say this game was lost because of Russell Westbrook. However, his complete disregard of Tony Parker on that final play certainly did not help.
This is becoming a huge problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is far from the first blatant mistake Westbrook has made that may have cost the Thunder a basketball game, and he has shown nothing to make experts and fans alike think that this mistake was his last. Last year, Westbrook made another head-scratching play, only he did it in the NBA Finals. Westbrook, unaware of the shot clock being at just 5 seconds, fouls Mario Chalmers with 14 seconds left to play trailing by 3 in the fourth quarter of Game 4. If Westbrook had not, he’d be defending Chalmers in the corner with four seconds on the shot clock, with a chance to force the miss. Skip Bayless had quite the field day after that mishap.
Full disclosure, I think Westbrook is a top ten player in the NBA. His scoring ability? Unparalleled. His athleticism? Scary. His durability? Absolutely off the charts good. So when he is often ridiculed for playing point guard but not playing like a point guard, I usually say (to quote a Matt Moore of CBS) let Westbrook be Westbrook. But I’m quickly re-thinking my theory. Why is that? Well is basketball I.Q. something a player can actually work on and improve?
Westbrook has been starting at point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder for four years now. He hasn’t missed a game. He’s had Derek Fisher, five time NBA champion, and seasoned veteran with the basketball I.Q. of half of the NBA combined in his locker room. His head coach was a point guard in the NBA and won a title. One of his assistant coaches was a four-time NBA All-Star at the point guard position, was named to 4 All-Defensive First Teams and also won an NBA title. Yet Westbrook still makes these bone-headed mistakes that hurt the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shouldn’t he be learning?
It’s not a problem of Westbrook not being able to understand plays, because that is easily fixable. It’s not a chemistry problem with his teammates or coaching staff, as they’ve been together for a good amount of time. What’s so frightening about this problem is that it’s on the simplest tier of all basketball-related problems but it can’t seem to be fixed, if it even CAN be fixed. Look at Derek Fisher. His turnover percentage hit above 20% twice in his career, both in his first three years in the league. Since then, it’s only gotten above 15% once. Baron Davis had a 20% turnover percentage in his rookie season, but then it never went above 15% until he turned 30 and age caught up to him. Now we look at Westbrook, who’s usage rate has increased every season since his second, while his turnover percentage dipped every year. Signs of improvement, right? Yet he still has these small but severely dangerous lapses of basketball basics and either completely falls asleep on his man IN THE LAST POSSESSION OF THE GAME, or does not look up to see if the shot clock is turned off or not in the closing seconds of an NBA FINALS GAME.
Unfortunately to conclude this thought or prove myself wrong or right is impossible considering I can’t really find a statistic for knucklehead plays per game. But it’s increasingly troubling to see Westbrook, statistically, become a smarter and smarter point guard but continue making these confounded mistakes in the worst of times. Does this make Russell Westbrook a bad player? No. Will this leave any noticeable mark on the Thunder’s season? Doubt it. Am I overreacting? Yeah, probably.
Side note: I have never read a better article on Russell Westbrook before, so I advise you read this article.