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Why Russell Westbrook Will Be The Reason OKC Makes The NBA Finals

By 04.24.12
Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook, Dime #43

Westbrook’s scoring (23.8 PPG, fifth overall and first amongst PGs), getting to the line (6.2 FTA, ninth overall and first amongst PGs) and rebounding (4.6 RPG, second amongst PGs) prowesses are too paramount to dismiss. He’s a game-changer. And yet, those like Bayless who were quick to criticize him for his assertiveness in last year’s playoffs, should’ve also noticed his increased postseason production. After taking the Lakers to six games in his playoff debut, Westbrook played 11 more games en route to the Western Conference Finals as a 22-year-old in his second stint. His minutes per game went up from 35.3 to 37.5, points from 20.5 to 23.8, and dimes from six to 6.4. There’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue this year.

SB Nation’s Welcome to Loud City founder, Zorgon, expounded further in an e-mail with regards to Westbrook’s expected playoff improvements:

“During the 2011 Western Conference Finals, Russell Westbrook was like a bull who constantly saw red. The result was one of three things: A highlight reel play, a really badly missed shot, or a turnover. More likely than not, against a championship team like the Mavericks, the result was one of the latter two options. This year, Westbrook still has that same fire in his belly, and he’ll still drive the ball recklessly on the fast break. But when the Thunder are running their offense in crunch time, he plays smarter. While running the ball up, he analyzes the defense, rather than zeroing in on the basket. He’ll call plays, he won’t fire as many quick shots, and he’s willing to defer the hot hand. This tells you that he’s more focused on making plays that actually score, and resorting less to cheap tricks and determination. In laments terms, he’s playing with his head, not with his balls.”

Of course, despite the strides Westbrook has made this season to quell last year’s playoff struggles, everyone will always call out his relationship with Durantula. The media and Twitter have circled this fabricated storyline like starving vultures.

When teams grow from an upstart to a contender, the expectations and profile dramatically rises. People want to crown the new champs before the season starts, and anything or anyone who slightly alters their anticipated outcome is automatically at fault. Players ain’t allowed to develop, experience and learn from their mistakes for more than one year, at best. The Westbrook/Durant drama escalated to the levels of Kobe versus Shaq when it doesn’t have an ounce of substance compared to those two.

In reality, Westbrook and Durant are as cool as teammates can be. They’re going through the same growing pains as any dynamic duo of the past. Their on-court chemistry doesn’t reflect how they act with each other off it. Durant didn’t sign a five-year, $85 million extension in 2010 if he didn’t believe he can win a ‘ship with Westbrook. More importantly, Westbrook would not have also re-up for five more years this year without an opt-out clause and without the “Rose Rule” – a max deal netting 30 percent of the cap — if he had real beef with KD. This fake subplot should be put to rest already.

“During the playoffs last year, I think the two were caught off-guard by how intently the media was trying to dig into their relationship dynamic, almost as if they wanted to see some fissure,” explained Welcome to Loud City’s J.A. Sherman in an e-mail. “This season though, the two seem to understand the media game a bit better and the intensive scrutiny has galvanized them. The entire Skip Bayless nonsense is a perfect example for how they have chosen to approach things — they have each others’ backs. Their personal relationship will have little if any bearing on the playoffs; all that matters is how they perform on the court.”

The NBA postseason is about matchups, not about b.s. off-court relationship issues. Who can guard Westbrook four out of seven times in a given series? Teams can devise schemes all they want towards forcing him to revert to last year’s tendencies. Westbrook and the Thunder have learned how to maximize his skill-set without curtailing his impact and the team’s overall success. Opponents will have a harder time dealing with him than he will with them. They have to make those adjustments, not him.

As the playoffs approach this weekend, Westbrook is primed to show the world he can lead the Thunder to the promise land. That’s the next step towards being considered the game’s consensus best point guard. His improvement is real and profound like a Dr. Dre produced beat. And just like there’s still build-up surrounding Dre’s Detox, Westbrook’s best is yet to come. The only difference is Westbrook is droppin’ his version this playoff run.

“The best thing about Westbrook though is that he never stops playing hard. He goes hard at the league’s best, so the chances of seeing other great guards like Tony Parker and Chris Paul will motivate him exponentially,” continued Sherman.

Yeah, that’s what the greats do come playoff time.

What does Westbrook need to do to help get OKC to the Finals?

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