Russell Westbrook Is Silencing Critics with Electric Point Guard Play

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

Russell Westbrook has a lot of critics—more than fellow superstar teammate Kevin Durant will ever have, in fact. But those critics no longer have a leg to stand on, an argument to make or anything to say.

At all.

For nearly five years, we've watched as Westbrook has emerged as one of the most potent scorers in the NBA—which, for many, was exactly the problem.

As a point guard, Westbrook's job should be to create for his teammates, to further the offensive stylings of Durant, not look out for himself. Sure, aggression is a valued commodity in a point man, but not when it isn't balanced with the proper dose of selflessness.

Westbrook has never been considered selfless, though. Only last season, he jacked up 19.2 shots per game, about the same as the 19.7 Durant hoisted. 

The result? A career-best 23.6 points per game coupled with a near-career-worst 5.5 assists.

Based on such statistical trends, clearly Westbrook wasn't fit to lead a team the way a true point guard would, the way any point guard should.

Or so people thought.

Whether or not one was an advocate for Westbrook's method of attack, it was slightly disconcerting to see him play off the ball once James Harden entered games last year. Though the reigning Sixth Man of the Year was a deft passer, should the keys to the offense really be given to a combo guard as opposed to the actual point guard?

A case for both parties can be made there, but there's no denying that Westbrook's role in the offense once Harden was on the floor furthered the notion that he couldn't play point guard.

But that's all changed. Harden is leading the no-shave millennium cause with the Houston Rockets, and Westbrook has been forced to adapt as a result.

And adapt he has.

We always knew Westbrook could score. That was never the question. The quandary that continued to arise was whether he could balance his penchant for point-totaling with the Oklahoma City Thunder's need for an altruistic playmaker. Could he ever put the needs of the team in front of his natural instincts?

Of course not. No one can succeed by denying inherent impulses.

Except that Westbrook has.

To date, the point guard is averaging 21.1 points on 41.9 percent shooting, marks that are significantly lower than last year's. However, he is taking just 18.1 shots a night as well, which is somewhat surprising when you acknowledge that even with Kevin Martin in the fold, there should be more attempts to go around without Harden.

Yet Westbrook isn't looking for his point postings to skyrocket. He's looking to assume the role of the team's primary facilitator, of Oklahoma City's primary offensive catalyst.

Westbrook is on pace to set a career high in assists per game with 8.6, a far cry from the paltry 5.5 he dished only last season. Yet that metric doesn't even tell half the story.

Russell Westbrook is averaging career highs in assists and career lows in turnovers per game this season.

— Thunder Stats & Info (@ThunderStats) November 26, 2012

Despite dropping more dimes than ever before, just 12.4 percent of Westbrook's possessions are culminating in turnovers, a career best and the chief reason why he is coughing up the rock just 2.9 times a game, another career best.

Such metrics are even more impressive when you take into consideration the point guard has never looked to pass so often. Westbrook is currently assisting on 44.7 percent of the points scored while he is on the floor.

For those wondering, that's the third highest in league, right behind Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo and significantly better than Deron Williams, LeBron James, Tony Parker and Ty Lawson—playmakers who all posted a higher assist percentage than Westbrook during the 2011-12 crusade.

To answer your question, yes, that means something. It means everything, actually.

Westbrook is now assisting at the third-highest rate in the game, compared to the 14th-highest rate at which he was assisting last season. I mean, this was a guy who was being outdished by Manu Ginobili, and now he's facilitating at higher degree than all but two players in the entire league.

As if that isn't enough, the 12.4 percent of Westbrook's possessions that are ending in turnovers is currently the lowest mark of any player in the NBA assisting on at least 33 percent of their team's hoops while on the floor. And yes, that includes Paul and Rondo.

So yeah, that five-year-old aphorism that declared Westbrook selfish, that insinuated he wasn't fit to be a genuine point guard, that asserted the Thunder were void of a gallant playmaker with Harden out of the picture?

Well, that no longer applies in Oklahoma City; it no longer applies to Westbrook. He's currently proving that he is capable of simulating the exact opposite.

He's proving that he is readily capable to do whatever the Thunder need of him.

He's proving he is actively willing to do whatever it takes to win.

That's the making of an authentic point guard, and it's the unfeigned makeup of one Russell Westbrook.

 

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of November 27th, 2012.

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