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Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder Will Live and Die by Russell Westbrook

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder Will Live and Die by Russell Westbrook
Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

Against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, Russell Westbrook reminded us all why he is the most polarizing player on the Oklahoma City Thunder, maybe even the entire league.

He's talented beyond belief. Quickness, explosiveness, durability, strength. He has all of the intangibles of a great guard.

But when he does this (courtesy of Matt Moore), the discussion quickly becomes one that Thunder fans have heard all too often.

He doesn't think. He plays too fast.  He doesn't look to Kevin Durant enough. He always goes for the big play—the steal instead of sound, fundamental off-the-ball defense.

Nov. 1 was just another indication that Westbrook—however talented—makes poor decisions on occasion. They are less frequent now than his rookie year, sure. He's improved other aspects of his game to hide his consistently inconsistent decision making.

Courtesy SI.com.

Just take a look at his turnovers per game. As a rookie, Westbrook averaged 3.3 per game. That was surprisingly high, considering he averaged 5.3 assists per game. 

Last year, his assist-to-turnover ratio was 5.5 to 3.6, but his scoring increased from 15.3 to 23.6. Westbrook has blossomed into an elite point guard. But elite floor general?

Not yet.

Against the Spurs, Westbrook dished out five assists to six turnovers. He was hardly an effective point guard.

Passing isn't Westbrook's game. It never has been and it never will be. He's a score-first point guard, something that Oklahoma City needs to keep defenses away from Durant.

With James Harden gone, that aspect of Westbrook's game is only compounded.

But on nights when Westbrook struggles from the field (18 points, 6-of-21 shooting), his infamous mental errors are all the more noticeable. 

It is obvious that Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks needs Westbrook. Sure, trading him away is an option, but what point guard would OKC bring in that is of equal value?

How worried are you about Westbrook's turnovers?

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No, Oklahoma City relies on Westbrook. The team relies on his decision making late in games—he's the most aggressive Thunder player in crunch time. 

He can break down defenses. When he's focused, he's a better on-ball perimeter defender than any Thunder player aside from Thabo Sefolosha

Some nights, his gambles pay off. If Tony Parker doesn't double back around the screen, Westbrook forces Danny Green into a turnover or a long jumper. He looks like a genius.

But nights like Nov. 1 will keep Thunder fans on their toes at the end of close games.

Westbrook could change his philosophy. He could slow down, limit turnovers and focus more defensively. But that's not how he plays.

He's an up-tempo player, all the time. He'll always want the big play at the end of a game. Bigger questions await Westbrook and the Thunder in the future.

Will his audacious playstyle affect OKC's run to the NBA Finals? Will it cost them a playoff game? A series?

Or will his talent shine through by playoff time? 

Westbrook is polarizing—for better or for worse.

 

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