Blog Entry

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

Posted on: October 28, 2010 12:03 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2010 12:28 pm
 
The Thunder are young, but don't overlook the smart, efficient way they play and how that helped them to a big opening night win over the Bulls on Wednesday.
Posted by Matt Moore


Kids these days. One minute they're struggling to win games against bottom-feeders and the next they're rolling out a huge win in front of a raucous crowd with a combination of stout defense and efficient offense. If there was any question about whether the Oklahoma City Thunder were really grown up; last night they answered that question with finality in their 106-95 win over the Bulls. It wasn't just the win over a tough, gritty, talented Bulls team that even without Carlos Boozer is loaded with talent and expected to contend in the East, it was the way they did it. And that started with Russell Westbrook.

While Kevin Durant led the team with 30 points, as he will nearly every single night, he did it on just 9-of-24 shooting. On the other side of the aisle, the Bulls' leading superstar, Derrick Rose, was even less efficient, launching 31 shots with only 12 makes. That's 39% for a player who was expected to have a much-improved jumper. For Westbrook? Try 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 12 of 13 from the stripe. Throw in 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block (and an acceptable three turnovers considering his usage)? You've got a masterful performance that should put Westbrook in the talks of the elite point guards in the league.

Westbrook wasn't just blinding with his speed, he was patient and deliberate when the situation called for it. It's been this progression since his rookie season two years ago that has brought him to stardom. Well, that and his insane athleticism and uncanny ability to both see the floor and attack opportunities to get his own buckets. It's the complete nature of his game, including his spacing defensively and intensity that makes him so dangerous ... and at such a young age (Westbrook turns 22 next month).

Coach Scott Brooks spoke strongly about Westbrook's performance after the game (as told to CBSSports.com's Royce Young): “I hoped we would start making some shots and we did, but I thought Russell did a great job of leading us, controlling the game, picking his spots and figuring out where they needed the ball. He filled up the stat sheet and that’s what we like about Russell. He’s not a one-dimensional player.”

But of course, Westbrook, forever the second fiddle to Durant, will be looked over. Just as some will continue to look over the Thunder, even as conversely the hype continues to grow and they thrive as one of the most fun teams in the league. Don't believe me? Watch the Thunder in transition. According to Synergy Sports, the Thunder were 10 of 13 in transition last night, getting points 78% of the time. It's a high efficiency opportunity but the Thunder took it to its furthest extent. And they were just as good on the other side of the ball.

While Westbrook and company were harassing Rose into a 12-of-31 shooting night, Oklahoma City poured it on defensively across the Bulls. While an 11-point win doesn't look overwhelming, the Thunder held the Bulls to a 96 efficiency (96 points scored per 100 estimated possessions; need to be above 100 to be "good" in this category) while logging a 107 themselves. The Thunder got to the stripe by forcing the issue (47 free throws to only 22 for the Bulls: thanks home-court advantage!), and held the Bulls to 14% shooting from the perimeter.

Those are numbers. In execution, the Thunder were always attacking and then pulsing back on defense. With the Bulls missing Carlos Boozer, there was no need for the frontcourt depth of OKC to rear its head. Coach Scott Brooks only went to a nine-man rotation, and Serge Ibaka was the only real "big" off the bench. Then again, with Ibaka bringing 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 31 minutes, Brooks didn't really need to turn to Cole Aldrich or Byron Mullens (Nick Collison is out with an injury).

For the Bulls, things looked eerily similar to last season. Unable to spread the floor with shooters, Rose was harassed by multiple defenders, Noah a beast but the bench a no-show. Each team shot exactly 45 jumpers, and the Bulls actually had a higher effective field goal percentage (eFG%, weighing 3-point attempts), and were better on the offensive glass. But the Thunder turned transition opportunities into layups and got to the line at will. With the Bulls aiming for long jumpers and a silent 3-point attack, this is the result.

The Thunder are exciting. They've got highlights (like this one , good night, nurse). But they're also very smart, and that starts with Russell Westbrook. They play with emotion but they play with control. And if the Thunder are looking to take the next step in their rise to NBA championship contention, this was a solid first step. Teacher's pets, I suppose.

Comments

Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: October 29, 2010 2:49 pm
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

@LAShowtime 1:

 

It seems that he was just making the point that Westbrook kept the Thunder in that series almost by himself.

You can make the same point about Steve Nash as he also kept the Suns in the series almost by himself.  C'mon now.  

Although Williams is an excellent point guard, he does not have the explosiveness like Westbrook.

As I stated earlier Williams plays in a more structured offense which utilizes half-courts sets to feed the post or hit the open outside shooters.  He's not as explosive off the dribble as Westbrook but he has proven that he can take over and dominate a game when needed as he did against Denver in their first round playoff series last year.  Despite playing with injuries to his wrist and ankle, and playing without starters Kirilenko and Okur, Williams scored 33 points on 7-14 shooting from the field while making 16-18 free throws from the line, while also contributing 14 assists on the road in a game 2 win against the Denver.  He repeated that feat later in series while scoring 34 points and dishing out 10 assists.  He became the first player in NBA history to record at least 20 points and 10 or more assists in five straight games in a playoff series.  Williams points/assists through the first five games, in order, were 26/11, 33/14, 24/10, 24/13, and 34/10.  C'mon MAN!   It seems that he was won the series by himself as Utah defeated the Nuggets 4-2.

Nobody plays with as much energy and fortitude as Westbrook.  He alone kept the Lakers pressured in the playoffs.

The Thunder play an up-tempo game as to take advantage of their youth and athletic ability and this allows Westbrook’s to take full advantage of his strengths.  We all know that Fisher is a defensively liability that's why Kobe usually takes the assignment of guarding Rondo when the Lakers play the Celtics, he's a better on-ball defender and he did the same against the Thunder in games #5 and #6 in last year’s playoff series.  In game #5 Westbrook was 7-20 from the field and in game #6 he scored 15 points and was 4-13 from the field with 8 turnovers, the Thunder eventually lost the series 4-2.  It was a good showing for a young team but it doesn't mean that he's a better player than Deron Williams.  IMO Rose and Westbrook have the talent and ability to be better than Chris Paul and Deron but at this point in time they're not...yet.  They will be. 

 




Since: Sep 14, 2008
Posted on: October 29, 2010 1:02 pm
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

This has to be the most fair and accurate description of the events leading to the Sonics move that I have ever read. I do not have any particular position either way, but from what little I did research this seems to accurately reflect the true events leading to the move




Since: Oct 3, 2009
Posted on: October 29, 2010 9:21 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

@HAGGZ . IM TALKN BOUT WHEN HE WAS AT UCLA fresman year!!!!!!!!!! 



Since: Feb 10, 2010
Posted on: October 29, 2010 9:13 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

TopofDline:
I don't think Warner was using Fisher as a benchmark.  It seems that he was just making the point that Westbrook kept the Thunder in that series almost by himself.  The signing of Steve Blake wasn't necessarily because he has the speed to stay with the quick PG's in the league either.  Blake was signed for his shooting skills.  He already paid dividends the other night.  Yet, to expect him to stay with Westbrook, Rondo, or Rose is unrealistic.  Those guys will run circles around Blake if he has to D them up alone.  Still, you are correct in that it is difficult to choose the best PG because they all do so many different things.



Since: Aug 22, 2009
Posted on: October 29, 2010 8:38 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

I take it, you didn't watch Westbrook in the FIBA World Championships.  He was the most dominate PG there.  He is on that level whether you like it or not.  That why he was my first PG picked in Fantasy Basketball.  He is a stat-sheet stuffer.



Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: October 29, 2010 8:03 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

@WarnertoHolt:

I agree that Westbrook is one of the best Point Guards in the league whcih is why he was a member of the US National team that won gold at the FIBA World Championships.  However to use Derek Fisher as a benchmark for comparing elite guards is inappropriate.  Deron Williams plays in a structured offensive set based on decision-making and ball distrabution.  Whereas the Thunder play a untempo style where their looking to push the ball up the court whenever possible, also they run a lot of isolations for Westbrook.  Also, Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo torched the Laker during the playoffs as well.  Aaron Brooks has had a great amount of success against Fisher, he's good but I wouldn't put him in the top tier amongst point guards.   Fisher no longer has the speed or quickness to stay with the younger PG(s) in the league which is exactly why signing Steve Blake was a priority for them during the offseason.  It's extremely difficult to say who is the best since they are required to do different things for their respective teams. 



Since: Sep 8, 2007
Posted on: October 29, 2010 4:47 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

Haggz, I don't know why you added me as a favorite poster of yours because every time you whine about how Seattle "got jobbed" you fail to mention the truth in your temper tantrums, and I come in and dress you down. You then go away for awhile and then eventually resurface and hope I don't notice.

The truth is, yes, Seattle did get jobbed... by Seattle resident and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Schultz was frustrated by losing huge amounts of money by being mandated to play in a subprime arena with a terrible lease and getting nowhere with Washington politicians in hope of trying to get a new arena. Schultz finally gave up and sold the team. Of course, no one in Seattle stepped up to buy it because the arena problem was never addressed even though the Mariners and Seahawks got new stadiums, so David Stern opened it up to out-of-state potential buyers. Enter Clay Bennett, and the rest is history. Bennett suddenly had enormous leverage with Washington because he either was going to get a new arena deal in Seattle or be able to move to Oklahoma City. Washington laughed at Stern and Bennett. No one thought the NBA would ever move from Seattle to some market like Oklahoma City.

Greg Nickels, the mayor of Seattle, sealed Seattle's fate by allowing Bennett to buy out of the lease the Sonics had with the City of Seattle. 

Yet, all you want to do is blame David Stern and call him a backstabber. What about how Stern came to Seattle to help Schultz lobby the Legislature in hopes they would understand the need to get a new arena for Seattle?

The only backstabbers here are Howard Schultz and Greg Nickels. 

NBA teams are not charitable organizations. NBA teams are not rights, they're privileges. They are not public utilities. While it is true Seattle is a great market, it also is true in the Sonics case it was a great market with a terrible arena and terrible lease that forced the team to lose money. You are just spinning rather than addressing the facts that even though Seattle is a great market, the arena is the reason why the previous owner sold.

At least your second-to-last sentence is accurate. David Stern is the king of the NBA. Seattle found it out the hard way, didn't it? You guys played a huge game of chicken with David Stern and lost. 

Seattle knows what it has to do to get a team. Get a new arena.

Oh, and quit calling Oklahoma City a subpar basketball market. It's doing very well there. It's making money. It has made the NBA stronger. Quit blaming other people for why your own up there in Washington let you down. 

The Sonics never move if Howard Schutlz doesn't sell the team. That is undeniable. Without a seller, there can be no buyer.


If you would like to keep swimming in quicksand in this Sonics-Thunder discussion, please respond to my post.  

  



Since: Jun 12, 2009
Posted on: October 29, 2010 12:00 am
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

As a Laker fan I have seen a lot of the points guards in the Western Conference.  Nobody plays with as much energy and fortitude as Westbrook.  He alone kept the Lakers pressured in the playoffs.  When the Lakers got to Utah it was a big sigh of relief.  Although Williams is an excellent point guard, he does not have the explosiveness like Westbrook.  Like it or not the dude is an elite point guard.  Just ask DFish.



Since: Oct 18, 2008
Posted on: October 28, 2010 11:38 pm
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

These trolls that are from seattle make me laugh.



Since: Jan 30, 2009
Posted on: October 28, 2010 10:57 pm
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

Really one regular season game and you put him in the elite category...calling Westbrook elite based on how he performed in the opener is an insult to the 5-7 players in this league that are truly elite


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