It’s Oklahoma City vs. Philadelphia on national television tonight and Russell Westbrook is coming off a 3-17 shooting clip from Wednesday’s win at Indiana.
He finished with just 10 points but added 17 rebounds and 12 assists for – surprise! – another triple-double.
Knowing what we know about Westbrook, that scoring performance was probably an aberration. He’s likely to respond with an output closer to his 22 PPG season average.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown was asked if Westbrook is “hard” to game plan against.
“Actually, not really, because what you do is say ‘get back, and good luck,” Brown replied. “Get back, good luck. It’s not like he’s flying off a thousand pindowns. It’s not like they run 11 plays for him. It’s not like – you know, he’s got more of a static, rise-up three pointer. You better load up, the first 3 to 5 seconds of the shot clock, and good luck, because here he comes. You can tell how I’m talking; I just think he’s unbelievable in that early-offense window, where he’s got an entire package. But how he really scares you the most is then, the slow down, dribble and back-up game, the pound, pound – he’s going to play like Gary Payton. That’s dangerous, too, but it’s not like there’s a thousand plays for him.”
The Sixers used big ball on Tuesday night to compensate for Minnesota’s height and the absence of Robert Covington, who was cleared to play against OKC.
That’s key in determining how they’ll defend Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, a trio that really hasn’t “figured it out” yet and might never get there. They shot 10-45 overall in that close win against the Pacers and look like, well, a group of guys that never shared a court together before this season. Overall, the Thunder are 13-14 and have played some streaky basketball, clumping together their wins and losses.
For Brown, who said he doesn’t love the idea of Ben Simmons defending “roadrunner” types of guards, it’s more about a team effort on Westbrook.
“This has always been the problem from day one – if we’re going to go to the starting group we have, and say Covington’s available, and you go Ben, Joel, JJ, and Dario with him, offensively you like that,” the head coach said. “But you’re challenged tremendously with who guards Russell Westbrook or a John Wall. There’s no clear-cut answer. My intention from the start, as I intended throwing Markelle into this, but ended coming in with Jerryd Bayless – there’s an answer for that. T.J. McConnell is an answer for that. So you give and you take and you make those decisions, and we’ll decide who guards Russell Westbrook, but I think that there’s no clear cut answer where we go, ‘oh, we’ve got it now.’ It’s not that at all. My selling point, and it’s true, is that Russell Westbrook demands a team to guard him.”
The question has always been about Westbrook’s role as a ball-dominant, do-it-all type of player, and who you put around him. It’s really not dissimilar from the Sixers’ experience with Allen Iverson and trying to get the right complementary parts into place.
I stumbled onto this tweet which really highlights that idea, concerning the efficiency of players with high usage rates:
Nugget from my piece dropping soon:
Russell Westbrook is currently on a not-so-good list. Players in NBA history with a 32% usage or higher, and a True Shooting % of 50 or lower
• Inefficient Iverson
• Old MJ (first Wiz year)
• Retirement Tour Kobe
• Prime Russ pic.twitter.com/gdCvztgtYU
— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) December 13, 2017
That’s the story, isn’t it? How do you build around a guy with that type of usage percentage? Can you? We all saw how Iverson’s career played out.
Here’s another way to look at it, also courtesy of Shane Young:
Russell Westbrook is now 212/545 (38.9%) from the field this season.
Out of all 30 players to take at least 400 shots so far, he is dead last in FG%
He has also taken the 3rd-most shots in the league. Lordy.
— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) December 14, 2017
He’ll get his looks and get his points, though it’s not exactly a well-oiled machine alongside his new teammates.
But if you look at the evolution of Westbrook’s game, you can draw parallels to Ben Simmons, who shows traits displayed by Russ in his early NBA years, i.e., here’s a guy who can get to the rim at will but doesn’t have much, if any, of a mid-range or three-point game.
“Three-point shot, reliability of a pull up jump shot,” said Brett Brown of Westbrook’s individual improvement. “All of these guys that you study and watch evolve over the years – look at what Lebron does now; his perimeter game from where it was to where it is now, that’s a real example we hope to show Ben Simmons, right? And so Russell Westbrook was just a dunking, lighting-in-a-bottle type of guy who is now like money, on the dime with the pull-up. He’s not afraid to rise up and take threes and does it at a respectable percentage, but he still wants to dunk and go shoot 20 free throws, too. The evolution of that first wave of skills, that first 5 to 7 seconds, or 3 seconds, to, ‘now he’s got a bunch of skills,’ that’s grown over his days in the NBA.”
There’s a lot to like, and emulate, about Westbrook’s game without taking on the high-use, inefficient side of it.
Welcome back, Russ.
Welcome back to Philadelphia Russell Westbrook, enjoy your stay. pic.twitter.com/S759YII0rm
— Noah Coslov (@NoahCoslov) December 15, 2017