Russell Westbrook has become one of the most highly criticized players in the NBA, and it would do him and his reputation a great deal of good if he simply stepped aside and allowed Kevin Durant to take control in the transition game.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
Like virtually every team in the NBA, the Thunder let their point guard handle the ball in fast-break situations. However, unlike most other teams, they have to worry about the floor general trying to be a star every time he makes a play.
Westbrook has the potential to be the most dangerous transition player in the game, as he has incredible end-to-end speed, a lethal pull-up jumper and can explode above the rim against anybody in the league.
But there’s one important thing to remember about Westbrook: He is not the Thunder’s best player.
Durant is seemingly going to be an MVP candidate every season from now until he passes his prime, and with his best playing days still ahead of him, he must be given the wheel when it comes to pushing the tempo.
The 6’9” forward commands attention. Whether he is controlling the ball or filling the lanes, defenses have to watch out for his efficient shot both inside and out. Yet the incredible thing is that he can rarely be stopped, evident by his three scoring titles over the past three seasons.
Durant is also averaging a career-high in assists throughout the 2012-13 season, showing that he has continued to mature as defenses have adjusted.
His game is far more efficient than Westbrook’s, and it’s more than a gamble to trust that the point guard is going to get Durant involved when there’s a play to be made for himself.
A possession shouldn't go by without Durant touching the ball, and that notion applies directly to fast-break situations where the forward can utilize his stretched-out frame and diverse skill set.
If you want to claim that Westbrook is a 2-guard, you have a point. But regardless of position, what this comes down to is that Durant is one of the best players in the entire NBA, and the ball should be in his hands.
The Thunder's two stars share the willingness to score and the ability to make plays, but Durant has become the reliable player at this point in their careers. Westbrook shouldn't be completely banned from controlling the ball in transition; he simply needs to make better decisions.
There’s nothing wrong with Westbrook leading the charge as long as he is looking for the best available option. We’ve seen him force plays many times throughout the years, as he wants to be the hero who leaves the crowd with something to remember.
Unfortunately for the young guard, that kind of mentality is risky, and the boom-or-bust results only add to the perception that he costs the team points, possessions and even games.
It’s painfully clear that Westbrook wants to be the star of this team, and that kind of mentality can cloud the judgment of any NBA player. His willingness to make the simple pass often times takes a backseat to highlight-worthy plays and, as a result, his decision-making skills have been questioned.
The worst part about Westbrook’s situation is that he truly does have the talent to take over this team. He is one of the most dynamic players in the game, and he epitomizes today’s NBA point guard.
If Durant weren’t around, the Thunder would be Westbrook’s in a heartbeat, so it has to be a confusing situation for a player who knows in his own mind that he can dominate anybody who tries to stop him in transition.
But that’s why the team needs to get the ball out of his hands. There should be no confusions as to where the ball is going on fast breaks.
Durant is option A; Westbrook is option B.
We can continue to argue Westbrook's position if we want, or we can simply accept that it truly doesn't matter how we classify this explosive guard. Durant is the best player on the Thunder, and he should be in control if the team hopes to succeed.