What Russell Westbrook Must Do to Become Best Point Guard in the NBA

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What Russell Westbrook Must Do to Become Best Point Guard in the NBA
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A couple years ago, hardly anyone considered Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook a candidate to eventually be the NBA's best point guard.

Entering the 2013-14 campaign, it's a legitimate possibility, provided he takes the appropriate steps and improvements.

In 2011-12, Westbrook looked more like a shooting guard who occasionally passed. He posted 5.5 assists per game, and many wondered whether he could be an authentic point man at a championship level.

Throughout the 2012-13 season, he progressed as a passer and leader, and if he continues to develop this year, he has a chance to reach the top of the point guard food chain.

He already possesses the physical gifts, scoring aptitude and playmaking skills necessary to be the league's best point. It's the finer points of quarterbacking that need upgrading.

So what exactly does he need to do?

 

Keep attacking, but be a more selective shooter

Most of Russell Westbrook's flaws are in the decision-making department, and shot selection is one of the main areas of concern.

Let's be clear: Scott Brooks can't change who Westbrook is. He's an aggressive player who likes to attack the hoop and toss up shots from the perimeter.

What the Thunder need from him is a more refined and discerning version of this player. In order to balance OKC's attack a little more and make it more unpredictable, he will probably need to cut his shot attempts per game slightly, from the 18.5-19.5 range to 16.5-17.5.

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Instead of settling for off-balance forays to the rim or closely-contested jumpers, Westbrook needs to work extra hard to find high-percentage opportunities. That means organizing and directing the team's spacing more often and finding shots in rhythm.

 

Improve clock management and situational decision-making

One of the essential tools of being a truly efficient and successful floor general is managing the clock, and that's something Westbrook has struggled with frequently throughout his career.

He must initiate the offense earlier in the shot clock in order to give his squad more quality shot attempts before the clock winds down. Oftentimes, Westbrook spends precious seconds feeling out the defense, trying to find a crease to use his athleticism. When nothing materializes, he's forced to make crazy passes or shots.

Reducing the frequency of these situations would directly impact his turnover totals. Instead of three-plus giveaways per game every season, Westbrook would be in the 2.5 range and see an uptick in assists and shooting percentage.

Westbrook must also keep a closer eye on the score, especially late in games.

There are occasions when he tries tricky passes or drives during the fourth quarter of one-possession games. Failing on those attempts can be costly, so he needs to eradicate those tendencies from his game.

 

Cut down on dribble pull-up three-pointers

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Westbrook loves his pull-up jumper, and although it's far less effective than his dunks and transition layups, he's never going to stop using it.

He doesn't have to eliminate it from his arsenal in order to become an elite point guard, but he should take fewer throughout the course of a game, and significantly fewer pull-up triples.

Why? Because he and the rest of the team should be constantly striving for layups and spot-up three-pointers, both of which are vastly more effective than pull-up threes.

According to Synergy Sports, Westbrook was 14-of-61 (23 percent) on isolation dribble three-pointers and 19-of-77 (25 percent) off pick-and-roll dribble triples.

It would be great if he could upgrade those numbers, but it would be even better if he sought different avenues to scoring.

 

Maintain focus and awareness defensively 

Westbrook has all the athletic tools to be an elite NBA defender, and when he puts his mind to it, he is. He has the lateral quickness and agility to stop any guard on the planet.

However, his focus and court awareness have room for improvement.

Basketball players learn at an early age to see your man and the ball, and be aware of each at all times. Unfortunately, Westbrook doesn't always do this. Brief lapses in focus give opponents freedom to cut backdoor, gain an edge on a curl screen or force OKC teammates to rotate.

In addition, these intermittent awareness hiccups rob him of chances to make steals. Sometimes the ball flies past his ears without him even knowing it.

A series of miscues cost him dearly against the San Antonio Spurs early last season:

These errors are part of the reason why the Thunder surrendered fewer points when he was on the bench than when he was on the court in 2012-13, according to 82games.com.

He's since cleaned up some of those tendencies, but his defensive focus and awareness could still be better.

 

Leadership

Westbrook rose to stardom early in his career and operated in a leadership role as the starting point guard of a playoff squad when he was 21. He already has experience directing his club through the rigors of long postseason runs, and he has a knack for firing up his troops during intense sequences.

But in order to be the best point guard in the league, he must maximize his leadership potential.

Kevin Durant will always be the team's alpha male and ultimate authority, but OKC needs loads of guidance and management from Westbrook too.

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Leadership isn't just motivating the team.

It's about maintaining good body language throughout the game, something Westbrook struggles with at times.

It's about demanding production and execution from everyone on the roster, including the rookies. If Westbrook can get guys like Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams to produce within the system, then he will be quarterbacking a deep lineup.

It's about pulling teammates aside for encouragement or chastisement, depending on the situation.

It's about absorbing every ounce of what the coach is preaching and then relaying to the team through actions and words.

He could learn a thing or two from Tony Parker, whose leadership was on full display in the NBA Finals. Note how Parker calmly directs his comrades, and they have militant-like respect for him.

 

Westbrook might be closer to the top point guard spot than some think.

He has the scoring repertoire to drop 22-25 per night while dishing 7.5-8.5 assists per night. If he can improve as a decision-maker on both ends of the floor, he can give Chris Paul a run for his money.

For the most part, Westbrook's necessary adjustments lie in his mental approach to the game.

Once he grasps the keys to captaining quality possessions and making crucial stops, he could find himself atop the point guard heap.

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