NBA Finals 2012: How Thunder's Russell Westbrook Will Reverse Fortunes vs Heat
Russell Westbrook has been the pariah of the NBA Finals this year, and it's only going to get worse if the Thunder lose.
It was less obvious when OKC was dominating, which they did for their first three series before reaching the Finals. Westbrook has always been a player who takes a lot of shots—too many, in most cases—and a lot of the times, they don't fall.
Now that the stages is the biggest it's been since the playoffs began and the Thunder are in the most serious danger they've ever been in, it has just become a lot more obvious that sometimes, the way he plays hurts the team.
The thing is, the way he plays obviously can really help this team, too.
When he's on, he can be the second-best player on the court, no matter what team the Thunder are playing. He's a point guard who can put up 33 points per game and averaged 23.6 this year. He's not Rajon Rondo; he shoots a lot, and iffy selection aside, the Thunder wouldn't be here without him.
Would the fans like to see him dish more? Now that he seems to be missing more than he's making, of course. But when he was hitting his shots against the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs, no one was complaining.
Westbrook is obviously an inconsistent player. Sometimes it hurts the team, sometimes it doesn't.
His two worst shooting performances of the postseason—in Game 4 versus the Mavericks, when he shot 3-for-12, and in Game 4 against the Spurs, when he shot 2-for-10—both came in Thunder wins. Westbrook has been criticized all season for his shot selection, but never with so much fervor. Now that the Thunder are losing, he's coming under fire like never before.
It's understandable that when things aren't going well, you blame a guy who seems to be the easiest target. But Westbrook is a player whose aggression, passion and fearlessness helps the Thunder almost as much as it hurts them, and it probably won't be long before he has the kind of game where he puts up 27 points in a Thunder win.
There has to be a tradeoff.
If Westbrook starts shooting less, the team might lose his offense on a night when he ends up shooting 67 percent from the floor, like he did in a huge Game 1 win over the Lakers in the conference semis. If he starts shooting less, somebody else needs to compensate for his offense. At this point, who is it going to be?
How many shots should Westbrook take per game?
Should Westbrook stop shooting? No. He's too valuable a component of this Thunder attack to start limiting himself to, say, 10 shots per contest, and that's not his game, anyway.
Should he try to be a bit more conscious of how much he's distributing? Yes, but that's easier said than done. He's capable of putting up the points and the assists—in Game 1 of this series, he had 27 points and 11 helpers—but he needs to find a way to do that with more consistency. Again, easier said than done, but it's possible.
This isn't about Westbrook totally altering the way he plays; that isn't going to help the Thunder. It's about him finding a way to play smarter, which he's shown he is able to do. He needs to find a way to maintain his composure, which is understandably going to take time, given his age (23) and his Finals experience (none, before this year).
He needs to avoid having games like he did on Sunday, when a third-quarter meltdown left head coach Scott Brooks with no option other than to sit him until he regained his composure.
It's about achieving a balance, which is there somewhere. He just needs to find it.
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