Oklahoma City Thunder: Why LeBron Is the Reason for Westbrook's Struggle

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJune 17, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts at the end of the third quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With Game 3 of the NBA Finals now over, much scrutiny has been paid to certain players.

Headlining this group is the point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook. His up-tempo, ball-dominant play has led many to criticize his play for not distributing the ball enough or taking ill-advised shots. However, there is more to this issue than meets the eye.

LeBron James is undoubtedly the best all-around defender the NBA has to offer. From guarding Derrick Rose in last year’s playoffs, to Pau Gasol in the regular season and now to Kevin Durant, he has seemingly unlimited potential to contest the opponent’s best player.

For this NBA Finals series, James has been matched up with Durant for the majority of the time. However, Durant has been able to average 31 points on 57.4 percent shooting. Clearly, the statistics are not in James’ favor to prove he is doing his job.

Conversely, Westbrook is averaging 24.3 points on 41.1 percent shooting. This number is down from his 45.7 average during the regular season, and is directly proportionate to James’ defense.

While it is arguably impossible to shut down Durant, James has done a good job of fronting him and denying passes to the three-time scoring champion.

For this reason, Westbrook is forced to create opportunities from the perimeter. His jump shot is unpredictable at times, which has led to a lower shooting percentage. He has definitely sought to supply Durant with possessions, contrary to what is the current story concerning his play.

He was criticized by Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson, who stated it was "the worst point guard performance in a championship finals I have ever seen." He went on to say Westbrook was "too wild" and "taking off-balance shots."

While this was the case, there was simple reasoning behind it.

James is taking opportunities away from Durant, which has increased Westbrook’s. While he could be more efficient and make better decisions when this happens, it is evident as to why the two-time All-Star has struggled.