The Oklahoma City Thunder can win an NBA title with Russell Westbrook playing the point guard position in its starting lineup. Alongside Kevin Durant, Westbrook will be able to win, despite his unorthodox style at his position.
There is no questioning the fact that Westbrook is among the NBA’s most athletic point guards. However, his ability to lead his team to a title has been heavily questioned.
His mistakes are thrown under a microscope often, but the truth is that they only magnify just how great Westbrook has the potential to be. For every bad shot he takes, he makes another great pass or shot.
His youth makes him inconsistent. Combined with his talent, it makes him scary going forward.
Since 2010, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offense has blossomed into one of the league’s most efficient units. In both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, the Thunder were among the NBA’s top five best offenses. That was a major turnaround for the team, who had not been in the top 10 in the preceding seasons.
When we take a look at Westbrook’s stats in both of those seasons, it is clear that some of the credit for that offensive turnaround is because of him. The young point guard broke through during the 2010-11 season, averaging 21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game. He followed that up with 23.6 points and 5.5 assists per game during the 2011-12 season.
Those are All-Star point guard numbers. Westbrook has struggled to get into a consistent groove so far during the 2012-13 season, averaging 19.4 points on just 40 percent shooting. However, his assist numbers have gotten better, at around eight per game.
It is true that Westbrook does not play the point like the traditional point guard would. He looks for his own shot as much as he does for others. However, the Thunder are a team that really is not built around having that type of point guard.
Westbrook and his teammates are at their best when they spread the floor and share the ball. Rapid ball movement is the key to their offense, as it allows open lanes for driving for Westbrook and Durant and wide open shots for shooters like Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha.
A traditional point guard is not what this team needs. They need a player who can score. The other large part of the Thunder offense is isolation plays for Durant and Westbrook. The flexibility of this offense to change from a ball movement-based system to an iso-heavy system is why it has had success against the entire NBA.
The departure of James Harden will help Westbrook become an even better point guard for this team. It may seem that Harden’s presence was better for Westbrook, as it allowed him to play off the ball. However, Harden’s absence will actually be much better for Westbrook’s development as a player and point guard.
Without Harden to lean on, the entire Thunder team is changing, Westbrook included. With the ball in his hands more, Westbrook has already improved his assist numbers without Harden around. That is not just due to Westbrook’s improvement, but also due to power forward Serge Ibaka getting more shots. Ibaka is averaging 14.6 points per game thus far this season, a 5.5-point jump from the previous year.
Kevin Martin is a much more complementary piece alongside Westbrook, as he is more of a spot-up shooter than Harden is. Having the ball in his hands more will just add to Westbrook’s experience, which will help him limit his mistakes moving forward.
Decreasing Westbrook’s mistakes can only increase this franchise’s great chances of winning an NBA title in the near future.