Russell Westbrook attracts vague superlatives, positive and negative, like no other NBA player. Best point guard, most athletic, most selfish, most angry, and the list goes on. There’s no doubt he’s polarizing, what with the whole “you take too many shots!” debacle circling his every mention. Game 3 did nothing to temper that conversation – Kevin Durant’s 25 points on 11-19 shooting once again outclassed Westbrook’s less efficient 19 points on 8-18. Of course, the numbers seem to justify these now seismic grumblings – why wouldn’t you want your most efficient scorer to score more, even more efficiently?
Except Durant’s economy emerges out of OKC’s erratic temperament. While the defense is adjusting and sliding and readjusting, Durant finds his spot, collects the ball and does athletic and gangly things that never cease to amaze. And if there’s anything these Finals have taught us, it’s that reinventing the wheel is fool’s gold.
The Thunder wheel demands Westbrook’s mindless departures from regular basketball movements – five foot finger roles with the left hand, dizzying bursts of hypnotic speed and, ultimately, contested mid-range jumpers that may or may not go down. On most basketball teams, Westbrook would be an enemy combatant detracting from “team” play, however that’s defined these days. I imagine him being Gilbert Arenas reincarnated, had he been stuck on a non-contender over these last few years. But on the Thunder, we somewhat tolerate Westbrook’s indiscriminate deviations if only because there’s an implicit understanding that the chaos he generates suits OKC’s offensive rhythm. But that’s just it – OKC is without rhythm and left to their own unkempt devices.
Pundits love citing Kevin Durant’s one-on-one prowess as further evidence that he deserves the ball more. We all know he’s a matchup nightmare – he shoots over quicker, smaller players, and blows by taller, lethargic giants. San Antonio witnessed this dilemma first hand, throwing nearly every player on its roster at Durant with minimal success. Miami, though, doesn’t have this issue – LeBron James’ height/size combination pesters him just enough to mitigate the advantage. We saw this at the end of Game 3, when Durant threw up two shots in one-on-one situations against James that didn’t even touch the rim. So, more than ever, OKC needs Westbrook to wreak havoc.
The more troubling issue, which is far more relevant than who takes what shot when, is a simpler, tougher-to-swallow fact: Russell Westbrook isn’t making shots. We’ve reverted to this tired conversation concerning shot selection simply because “he’s missing shots” never satisfies our need for nuanced answers and clever solutions. Sometimes, in basketball, players miss shots. Russell Westbrook is missing shots that he normally makes, the same ones he made against San Antonio. And that’s all there really is to this.
Is Russell Westbrook taking too many shots?
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