NBA@2: Redemption For Russell Westbrook
When the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder last met it was in the Western Conference Finals, a series that had some extra drama as Thunder head coach Scott Brooks chose to go with reserve point guard Eric Maynor for a key stretch of Game 2, which the Thunder won.
For Brooks, it was a teaching moment. Westbrook may be one of the best young point guards in the NBA, but he still had plenty of room to grow in that conference finals series. Sometimes the best way to learn is by sitting courtside and watching at a time when you would normally be leading your team to victory.
This season, there have been no such benchings for Westbrook.
“Russ has improved every year now,” Brooks said. “This is his fourth season and he has gotten better month by month with our team because of the work that he puts in. Our staff does a good job of challenging him and making him a better player, but he’s improved his game in all areas: layups, mid-range, three point shooting, free throw attempts. The percentages have gotten better. We see it every day and sometimes when you’re around it every day you kind of don’t see it as much as if you move away from it and kind of observe from a distance. But Russell’s a great kid that works hard and he deserves what he gets.”
Westbrook will always be more of a scoring guard than a traditional set-up man, and this season has been no exception. The lockout-shortened season saw Westbrook average a career-high 23.6 points on a career-high 46 percent from the field. The Thunder don’t look at Westbrook as a set-up man anyway. His primary job is to be the team’s second-leading scorer behind Kevin Durant, a role he filled better than ever this season.
“Yeah, he’s coming out, he’s being aggressive, he’s making shots and he’s just playing hard and that’s what we need from him,” Durant saod. “He did that last year, but he might not have made a few shots and Eric was playing well so he might move to the two some, so there’s a lot of different things that went on in that series. This year, he’s grown as a player, as a leader and he’s helping us out tremendously.”
Through the first three games of OKC’s sweep of the Mavericks, Westbrook averaged 25.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting and also shot 44 percent from three. In Game 4, Westbrook struggled to find his shot, going just 3-for-12 from the field, but he still helped the team by playing killer defense. Dallas started Jason Terry to try and jump start their offense, but the usually-prolific Terry went 4-for-12 with just 11 points in 43 minutes.
“I’m just trying to improve,” says Westbrook. “It has nothing to do with last year. Just trying to play the same I’ve been playing all season. Just trying to help us find a way to win.”
It is extremely likely that OKC’s second round opponent will be the Los Angeles Lakers, so there are plenty of tests ahead for the Thunder. Rest assured that Westbrook’s play will have everything to do with the Thunder’s success. It appears he is finished sitting on the sidelines. He has gained Scott Brooks’ trust and he’ll be out there with his team when the game’s on the line.
It’s a scenario the Thunder like very much.
A New Runway For The Jet?
For the past eight seasons, Jason Terry has been one of the most important pieces on one of the best teams in the NBA. During his tenure as a Dallas Maverick, the team never failed to win 50 games (out of 82), they never missed the playoffs, they made it all the way to the Finals twice, won one championship, and through it all he was a perennial sixth-man of the year candidate because he sacrificed his ability to start as a way of helping his team.
Saturday’s Game 4 loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder signaled the end of a lot of things for the Mavericks including, in all likelihood, the end of Jet Terry’s run as their leader off the bench, on the court and in the locker room.
Like so many of the Mavericks, Terry’s contract expires this summer, and by all indications he will not be returning to the team. Terry will turn 35 years old in September, meaning the multi-year contract he signs this summer will likely be his last. With this contract, he has to make sure he sets his family for the foreseeable future, and that was his primary concern as reporters asked him about his future plans over the weekend.
“I have to think about my family now. Nothing’s more important than that,” Terry said over and over again as questions about his future kept coming.
“We’d love to have Jet back,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in exit interviews on Sunday morning. “You talk about a guy that’s given his heart and soul to this franchise, and made big plays and big shots. You would love to have him back. It’s just, at what cost?”
It’s no secret that the Mavericks have set their sights on Deron Williams this summer. The Nets point guard is from Dallas, and the Mavs are hoping that a chance to play in front of his home crowd 41 nights a year might be enough to lure him to town. The problem is that after paying Williams and Nowitzki there won’t be much money left to pay free agents. Considering Terry will likely command a significant amount of money next season, that likely means Dallas simply can’t afford to bring him back.
As for Nowitzki, he understands that situation, and seems to be in the process of accepting that Jet Terry will be playing against him next season instead of with him.
“Hopefully it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out for him the way he wants it to. Maybe he’s going to be back here. I think it’s definitely going to be weird seeing him in a different jersey, so hopefully we figure it out and he’ll be here.”
It’s been a great ride for Jet Terry in Dallas. It’s been great for the team, for the fans and especially for the city, where Terry has worked tirelessly on behalf of underprivileged kids. If he’s finished in Dallas he leaves quite a legacy behind him.
It’s a legacy the Mavericks will struggle to fill, Deron Williams or no Deron Williams.
The Sixth Pick In the 2012 NBA Draft
If the NBA Draft Lottery goes as the odds say they should (which it rarely does), the Portland Trail Blazers should have the sixth overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Assuming they actually do land the sixth pick, which player best fits their needs?
HOOPSWORLD’s latest Mock Draft has three of HOOPSWORLD’s four mock drafters saying the best pick for the Blazers is University of Connecticut center Andre Drummond, so let’s take a look at his game and see if it would, indeed, be a good fit in Portland.
It’s no mystery where Portland’s biggest hole is. They chose to part ways with Greg Oden earlier this season, meaning they are finished hoping he can get healthy and they’re ready to move on. Drummond could certainly help them do that. He passes the eye test with flying colors and has the size and quickness to be an impact player in the NBA. The questions about Drummond seem to revolve mostly around whether or not he will realize his potential, based on his overall lack of improvement in recent years.
Defensively, Drummond is the real deal. He ranked in the 96th percentile in post defense, 92nd percentile in isolation situations, and showed the ability to block shots without fouling, ranking sixth among college prospects in blocked shots. He does a great job blocking shots in help situations, not just taking care of his own man, and also has a knack for keeping balls in play after blocks, rather than swatting them out of bounds and preserving the possession for his opponent.
On the offensive end, Drummond is definitely a work in progress. He has a great deal of quickness, agility and physical prowess, he simply seems to lack the know-how. His strength is absolutely in transition, where he ranked in the 92nd percentile, but he ranked in the 16th percentile in post-ups, 48th in isolation, and 24th in offensive put-backs. Given his size and his physical tools, Drummond should be dominant in the paint on both ends of the floor, not just the defensive end. The right coaching staff should be able to help him develop that skill set, as he is just 18 years old going into the draft.
Portland needs it all, as they don’t currently have a starting center under contract for next season. LaMarcus Aldridge played some good minutes at center this season, but that’s not the gameplan going forward. The best player in this draft for Portland is unquestionably Anthony Davis, but barring a draft lottery miracle, it seems Drummond might be the best player left on the board when they pick.
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