“Ok City can't beat the Lakers w (with) Westbrook's ego running amok like that...sweep was there because Denver tried its best to cough it up. Russell Westbrook is a great player but too much hero ball...like's he's competing w Durant...Give the ball up to a superior shooter.”
These comments were made by ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon on Twitter following Denver’s victory over OKC in Game 4 of their first-round series.
While they may seem highly critical, Wilbon’s comments actually express what many people have been feeling about Westbrook’s game since the start of the 2011 NBA playoffs.
While there is no question that the young guard from Long Beach holds superior talent, for his team to flourish, three things need to happen: Russell needs to pass more, shoot less and let the league’s leading scorer take over at the end of games.
Selected fourth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft out of UCLA, Russell has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the league’s elite point guards. With lightning-quick speed and great court vision, Westbrook has the ability to blow past defenders with ease and dish off to teammates when double-teamed.
His athleticism matches that of newly minted MVP Derrick Rose, which allows him to overpower weaker defenders that simply cannot match his strength and agility.
With such great qualities, his erratic play comes as a surprise to many who believe that his squad is the next “it” team in the Western Conference.
The most obvious criticism in these playoffs, as seen by Wilbon’s comments, stem from Westbrook’s “ball-hog” mentality. He has taken 144 shots in OKC’s first seven playoff games, as compared to Durant’s 143 and has even seen an increase in turnovers and erratic play.
His 30-shot performance in Game 4 against Denver virtually lost the game for his team and sparked an uproar from the media about his “me first” mentality.
His seven turnovers in Game 1 of the Western Conference semis played a large part in the Grizzlies' manhandling of the young guns from OKC, sending the Thunder into an early 0-1 hole.
While Game 2 saw a Thunder victory, Westbrook again had more shots than Durant and posted four turnovers.
With all this being said, there is no question that Westbrook is one of the primary contributors on this young squad and one of the main reasons they are in the position they are in today. His elite talent combined with his freakish athleticism, at such a young age, are great signs for a team that could very well be the next great small market team.
For the Thunder to advance past the Memphis Grizzlies, though, Westbrook needs to realize that he is No. 2 in the pecking order. He needs to utilize his superior point guard talents and dish the ball off to his open teammates to get others involved.
He needs to be more like Jason Kidd and less like Allen Iverson.
Playing next to the league’s best scorer and elite super star in Kevin Durant, Russell must realize that he is not the team’s first option. That title goes to KD and for good reason.
If RW can get back to his pass-first, shoot-second mindset, the Thunder are in for a long run this postseason and for many years to come.