Why Russell Westbrook Is Not A Championship Point Guard

Why Russell Westbrook Is Not A Championship Point Guard

Russell Westbrook Ponders The Basketball Universe

We’re all well acquainted with the events that unfolded on Thursday night in a game between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook went the complete wrong way while guarding Tony Parker, who got wide open and made a 20 footer as time expired to lift the Spurs to a victory. Echoes of last year’s playoffs, when Westbrook turned his head and lost Steve Blake – only Westbrook wasn’t forced to learn from that mistake as Blake’s potential game winning 3 bounded off the rim.

What we’ve been saying here for the past two seasons still holds true: Russell Westbrook simply isn’t a point guard. He is one of the most explosively athletic players in the league, and is able to create something from nothing in often sublime ways. But the anger that simmers just under the surface tends to influence his decisions, and the pattern has been disturbing. Time and again, he is willing to dribble the ball into the double digits, in place, not initiating the offense, until there is only time for him to fling up a last second on the shot clock heave. He delivers the ball late to cutter coming off of screens, and settles for outside jump shots when the lane is open. Defensively, he is a superior on ball defender, but when his focus dissolves once his man cuts away to the weakside.

These things aren’t even an issue when the Thunder play the bottom 26 teams in the league. The Thunder so overwhelm their opponents with physical talent, there is little need for actual coaching by Scott Brooks. Which is precisely why they couldn’t beat the Heat in last year’s finals. They had no idea how to play up to an opponent that could match them physically. Once LeBron James started posting up early and often, the Thunder could not figure out how to double down on James and rotate back out to the shooters. It was like Scott Brooks had never learned how to coach to win, since it came so easily as his players developed on their own.

The question Thunder fans need to ask themselves is: Is this enough? Is it good enough to be able to beat all but 3 teams in the league in a 7 game series? You don’t want to overlook the phenomenal success they’ve enjoyed over the past 3 seasons, yet I can’t help but think that the maturation process has eluded them and held them back from getting over this hump. In America, we expect a better version of our favorite team each year, and we want to see tangible signs of that improvement – in wins.

Russ Wrestling With His Soul

Russell Westbrook can get in the gym in the offseason and work on his ball handling, his jump shot, his defensive stance. But what he hasn’t worked on is his understanding of the game. The point guard position is filled with subtleties and nuance about how and when to get the ball to teammates, how to manage the game clock and get the best shot for each situation, how to lead on the court and be the steady hand that steers the ship. These are things Westbrook does not excel it, and may never. Which is precisely why we have been calling for the Thunder to play him at shooting guard and let him do what he does best: attack from the wing after some ball movement. With an ego-less point guard like Eric Maynor running the show, he can see that the shot distribution is on the right track – with Kevin Durant getting more shots than Russ.

About The Author

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

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10 Comments

  1. Drem84

    But who would a player find than balance between playing with his head and playing through feel and flow of the game

      1. popobruder

        rondo and kidd are bad examples, since none of them are natural scorers. their natural feel for the game is passing, not scoring. rondo especially has the exact opposite problem of russells: he often doesnt score enough. with pierce and KG getting older, he needs to take the celts on his back sometimes. but thats a completly different topic

  2. Jeff Mandle Feld

    Coach Nick get outta here, you’re a high school coach at a terrible school. Why should anyone give a crap about anything you have to say about Westbrook, the 1972 Finals or anything related to the NBA? You should focus on marginal, lower level HS coaches, thats your audience. I work for Coach Miller, you’re claiming him as a mentor? Stu Jackson and Van Gundy were at UW in the 90’s, that puts you close to 40. If you are truly this guru you purport to be, then why don’t you have a D2 or D3 job, NAIA job, JC? Why is the Triangle offense guru coaching at Birmingham High School? Basketball historian? How?

    1. jr

      Whoa whoa dude why are you so angry??? Coach Nick speaks the truth Russell hasn’t shown the ability to be a good game managing point guard.

      1. Feld

        @JR not anger, exasperation. Every two-bit coach with a damn Synergy account thinks he’s an authority on the NBA. Its disgusting.

        1. jr

          The thing is tho he has a right to say whatever he wants on his website. You don’t agree, you don’t have to read it.

          Ps I happen to agree with coach Russell makes bone headed plays on offense and defense. He hurts his team in big moments because of his reckless I am the man play style. The things is tho its my opinion no need for name calling just because someone disagrees with u.

    2. Steven Keaton

       You are an idiot. I’m a thunder fan and I’ve been frustrated as hell with westbrook. Everything he said is true. You probably didn’t even watch the video huh?

    3. bballbreakdown

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure you are who you say you are, since I got off the phone with someone you mentioned above… 

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