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NBA Saturday: Westbrook Silences Critics
Posted By Alex Kennedy On June 2, 2012 @ 10:40 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
This time last year, Russell Westbrook couldn’t do anything right. The 23-year-old was one of the most criticized players in the league, with doubters questioning his shot selection, point guard skills and attitude among other things.
Rather than embracing Westbrook as a freak athlete with a versatile game, critics ripped him apart. However, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti knew that Westbrook was capable of being a special player and signed the point guard to a five-year extension worth nearly $80 million. Once again, critics chimed in, questioning the decision to pay him so much.
This season, Westbrook has been worth every penny. With his contract situation behind him and another year under his belt, Westbrook has emerged as a legitimate star for the Thunder. During the regular season, he averaged a career-high 23.6 points along with 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals. In the postseason, he and LeBron James are the only two players who are averaging at least 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. It was a breakout year for Westbrook and, suddenly, the critics are silent.
“I just feel a little more experienced and a lot more comfortable,” Westbrook said. “My team does a great job of getting me open, getting me to the spot and getting me affected. I’m just feeling a lot more comfortable in my fourth year now.”
Westbrook was motivated by last year’s Western Conference Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He worked out during the offseason with Kevin Durant and the two were determined to improve their games and advance one step further, to the NBA Finals, this season.
“Last year we got put out in the Conference Finals, so we were disappointed in that,” Westbrook said. “Coming in this year, I wanted to try to help my team and become a better leader. Kevin [Durant] has done a great job of helping me out of staying positive regardless of what’s going on throughout the game, giving me confidence and that’s just how I feel during the playoffs.”
Not only is Westbrook averaging better numbers, he’s maturing. He is more patient on the court, better at reading defenses and understands when to score versus facilitate. Rather than caring about his points per game or shot attempts, Westbrook is now 100 percent focused on winning games. It’s no longer about Westbrook and his numbers; it’s about the Thunder and winning games. When asked what part of his game was most impressive during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Westbrook didn’t hesitate.
“That we won,” Westbrook said. “For the most part, that’s all that matters. Regardless what the stats look like, our team won. That’s all that matters. My job is to make sure we win. Whatever it is throughout the game that I need to do to make sure of that, that’s all that matters. If you want to win, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has been extremely impressed with Westbrook this season.
“There’s no question that Russell has developed from the day we drafted him through his hard effort and commitment that he puts into the team,” Brooks said. “We’re seeing it in front of our eyes. He’s played four years in this league and he’s a two-time All-Star at 23 years old.”
Perhaps the scariest thing about Westbrook, and the Thunder in general, is that he’s so young and still has so much room for improvement. He’ll only get better as he becomes more comfortable, continues to mature and reaches his prime in several years.
“He’s still going to challenge himself to get better,” Brooks said. “He and the rest of the guys, they’re not mistake free. They all make mistakes, but Russell’s mistakes are always with a pure heart. He plays with his emotions, with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. He’s improved a lot and I talk to him constantly and he knows that he has to keep getting better. He’s not a finished product.”
Westbrook hasn’t gotten the attention that Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Chris Paul have during these playoffs, he has been playing at an extremely high level and helping the Thunder win games. Westbrook used the criticism and trade rumors as motivation to improve over the offseason and now his hard work is paying off. He has emerged as one of the league’s best point guards at 23 years old and his critics have been silenced.
Teams Looking to Trade First-Round Picks: Over the next few weeks, don’t be surprised if a large number of teams outside of the lottery try to trade their first-round pick.
Multiple sources have told HOOPSWORLD that a lot of teams are trying to get rid their pick, which could make for an interesting draft night.
“Almost everyone wants to get out of their pick in this draft,” said one Western Conference executive. “For some teams, it’s hard to take on money for multiple years in this economic climate, especially if the player would not make an impact and help the team win immediately.”
That means contending teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Chicago Bulls may opt to trade their late first-round pick rather than draft a rookie who won’t really contribute (just like Reggie Jackson and Jimmy Butler this season). Expect plenty of trade rumors over the next several weeks.
Clippers, Olshey Agree to Contract: The Los Angeles Clippers announced last night that an agreement in principle has been reached between the team and Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. As usual, no terms of the agreement were made public. He had received interest from the Portland Trail Blazers before reaching an agreement with the Clippers.
The 2011-12 campaign marked Olshey’s second season as the Clippers’ Vice President of Basketball Operations and his ninth overall season with the organization. Olshey began his career as Director of Player Development prior to the start of the 2003-04 season and served as an assistant coach during the 2004-05 campaign before holding the title of Director of Player Personnel from 2005-08. Olshey was promoted to the role of Assistant General Manager prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, holding that position for two seasons until being named Vice President of Basketball Operations prior to the start of the 2010-11 campaign.
During a six-day span last offseason, Olshey added two-time All-Star Caron Butler, five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups, re-signed DeAndre Jordan and, through the biggest trade in franchise history, brought in All-Star Chris Paul. In addition to these moves, Olshey signed veteran big men Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin and acquired Nick Young from the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline.
Olshey finished third in Executive of the Year voting with 55 points, including six first-place votes.
Inside Game 3: Here are some news and notes from last night’s Heat-Celtics game.
• Kevin Garnett led the Celtics in both points (24) and rebounds (11), hitting 10 of 16 shots from the floor, while playing 33 minutes, 49 seconds. It was the 20th time that he has led the Celtics (or has tied for the lead) in both categories in a playoff game, including seven times this year, according to Elias. Boston has won nine of its last 12 playoff games in which Garnett has led the team in both points and rebounds.
• After shooting a combined 35 free throws in Game 2, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade didn’t get many calls in their favor on Friday night. The duo attempted a combined five free throws and Boston shot six more free throws than Miami.
• The Celtics received big contributions from their bench. Marquis Daniels chipped in 9 points and 5 rebounds after sitting on the bench for much of the postseason. Keyon Dooling contributed 7 points and 4 rebounds.
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