James Harden's Departure Forcing Russell Westbrook to Become True Floor General

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a layup against the Boston Celtics during the game on November 23, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook has played a variety of roles during his four-plus-year career in the NBA.

He's been a dynamic driver, capable of breaking down his defender and finishing plays at the basket. He's been a frustratingly pesky defender with the requisite strength and quickness to turn away drives and clog passing lanes. He hasn't yet been labeled a marksman, but he's connecting on a career-best 33.9 percent of his perimeter attempts while averaging the most three-point attempts he's ever taken.

But if there's a title that Westbrook has yet to fill, it is this—floor general.

When James Harden formed the Oklahoma City Thunder's three-headed monster with Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brooks utilized a point-guard-by-committee approach. Oklahoma City's big three averaged a combined 12.7 assists per game in 2011-12, but no Thunder player averaged better than 5.5 assists.

Given Westbrook's uncanny ability to score points in bunches, Brooks understood that limiting his offense by asking him to create for others could take away buckets that the Thunder could ill afford to lose.

Here's where Harden stepped in.

Late in games, he often initiated Oklahoma City's offense. Westbrook and Durant focused on their own scoring, while Harden was tasked with putting his teammates in position to score.

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For every analyst that Westbrook impressed with his scoring numbers, he had five more lined up, pointing to his limitations in terms of being a "pure" point guard. Scouts wondered if he'd ever be able to efficiently run an NBA offense. He did little to dispel his developing reputation with just 5.5 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 2011-12.

While the masses debated over Kevin Martin's ability to replace Harden's scoring (16.8 points per game in 2011-12), NBA minds focused on how the Thunder's offense would operate without their late-game creator.

If the 2012-13 season's first 14 games have shown anything, it's that coach Brooks' offense is in good hands with Westbrook.

The UCLA product is on pace for a career high in assists (8.4 per game) and a career low in turnovers (3.0). If he hasn't already added floor general to his resume, it's because he's been too busy directing the offense.

If pure point guard sounds like high praise for a player who entered the NBA as a defensive stopper, consider what he's accomplished this season. He's cut into his formerly unsightly turnover numbers despite logging a career-high 36.9 minutes per game. And he's limited those turnovers while orchestrating the league's second-most potent offense (103.7 points per game).

Given what was already in the 24-year-old's arsenal, he might be well on his way to adding another title to that lengthy list—best point guard in the NBA.

All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 11/25/2012.


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