Eight days into the NBA season is always a good time for overreaction. It’s not that it’s too early to make observations — e.g., I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to predict a monster year for Carmelo Anthony right now — but it is too early to put the tombstone on some players who aren’t starting out so hot.
Players like Russell Westbrook. Over the summer, I was the main one leading the charge in the Dime office over Westbrook, insisting he’d blow up this year like Deron Williams blew up in his second pro season. All the warning signs were there: After an underrated rookie year (his 15.3 ppg and 5.3 apg were right there with R.O.Y. Derrick Rose), Westbrook worked out like a decathlete in the offseason, tore up the Orlando Summer League (22 ppg, 7.8 apg, 2.5 spg), and got positive reviews from his time at the Team USA mini-camp in July.
Four games into the new season, though, it’s looking like this may not be the year Westbrook becomes a star. Just like a lot of analysts were putting expectations on the Thunder that might have been too high, I may have given OKC’s point guard a little too much, too soon.
Westbrook’s rebounding, assist and field-goal shooting numbers are up from last year through this first week, his scoring is only slightly down, but it goes beyond the stats. In OKC’s last two games — a loss to Portland that was close well into the fourth quarter, and last night’s overtime loss to the Lakers, both at home — Westbrook has hurt more than helped in crunch time. He’s also been a turnover machine. He gave it up six times to L.A., and had nine turnovers against the Blazers; not to mention a five-turnover effort in a win at Detroit.
Last night, Thunder coach Scott Brooks had to defend his team against accusations they were rattled against the defending champs, which could have just applied to Westbrook alone. Derek Fisher, who showed in last year’s playoffs that his defense is nowhere near where it once was, gave Westbrook as much trouble as Ron Artest was giving Kevin Durant down the stretch.
“Westbrook was mostly awful for the second straight game: six turnovers to go with seven assists and 12 points,” Oklahoman columnist Barry Tramel wrote in today’s paper. “Old pro point guard Derek Fisher did a number on Westbrook. Like his team, Westbrook is a work in progress with a bright future.”
Because he’s not quite a natural, pure point guard, Westbrook sometimes gets caught up trying to do too much as a scorer; think Steve Francis in his heyday. So far this season, those single-minded drives have resulted in more than a few turnovers, charges, and bad shots.
Westbrook has the ability to score, he’s got the talent to make plays as a passer and be a beast on defense, but it turns out his biggest leaps in Year 2 will have to be made in the facets of the game that don’t involve a weight room or a track. Once his decision-making improves and he gains the poise in crunch time that only experience brings, he should be back to his regularly scheduled takeoff.