Russell Westbrook dropped a spot in SI’s rookie rankings this week: “Westbrook has helped the last-place Thunder win four of five as they inch closer to overtaking the Timberwolves in the Northwest Division. With starting forwards Kevin Durant and Jeff Green sidelined by injury, Westbrook has shouldered more of the offensive load lately. The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 22.2 points and 6.4 assists, along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals, in the last five games.”
Scott Brooks is hoping to shed that interim tag soon: “No talks yet,” said the Manteca native, who interviewed for the Kings’ coaching vacancy two offseasons ago. “I’m still interim. It hasn’t really crossed my mind – too much. But I like what I’m doing. I’m getting better. “I feel like I’m almost a mirror of our team. They’re a bunch of young guys who are getting better, and I’m improving with them. I critique myself after every game. Our players are all gym rats, so we’re kind of from the same mold. We want to get better, and I think we have.”
Is this the only headline the Oklahoman uses? “(Insert player) is making an impact.” This time, it’s Chucky Atkins: “Rather than sitting and sulking on the sidelines, the 34-year-old Atkins has voluntarily become somewhat of a player-coach, with obviously more coaching than playing. Atkins has taken Westbrook, the No. 4 overall pick, under his wing over the last two months, educating the 20-year-old on how to be a successful lead guard. Whether during timeouts or during game play, Atkins can be seen yakking in his teammates’ ears, sharing anything and everything he’s learned from 10 years in the league.” They might just be going player by player.
Robert Swift’s absence explained: “Also, Robert Swift has re-joined the team after receiving an excused absence from the team the past two games for personal reasons. He told me his 10-month-old son, Reiko Swift, needed surgery to fix overlapped growth plates in his head. Swift flew back to Seattle, where his son was in intensive care for two days and is still recovering in a hospital. He is expected to be released by the end of the week.” Dang. Get well soon Reiko (fitting name for Robert Swift’s kid, but wasn’t that a guy in Mortal Kombat? EDIT: Yes, yes it was). Prayers your way for sure.
Empty the Bench has Russell Westbrook as its rookie of the year: “And finally, my Rookie of the Year is none other than Mr. Russell Westbrook, already one of my favorite players to watch in the league (and on one of my favorite teams to watch, no less). I still question whether he’s a true point or more of a combo two, but I no longer have any concerns about Westbrook being an impact starter at this level. He’s a scorer and floor general with exceptional quickness and leaping ability which allows him to put the ball in the basket and create for others. His presence handling the ball and generating offense has taken a lot of pressure off of Kevin Durant and the two have complementary games.”
Darnell thinks Kevin Durant will return Monday against San Antonio: “After talking to a few people tonight, I’m going to say Durant returns Monday against San Antonio. Durant was hoping for Wednesday at Denver and if not then definitely at Phoenix on Saturday. I’m saying Monday.”
Thoughts from Sactown Royalty: “The fourth-quarter unit actually did play well … on defense. Sort of. The Thunder killed themselves with turnovers (11 in 24 posessions, which is completely unbelievable) and poor shooting (6-for-18). One way to judge the efficacy of the Sacramento defense in creating those turnovers is to look at Sacramento’s steals. (It’s not perfect — you can have unforced turnovers leading to steals and good defense leading instead to non-steal turnovers, including offensive fouls. But it’s a decent indicator.) Those 11 OKC turnovers in the fourth produced three steals for Sacramento. Not a lot of fast-breaking there.”
Sporting News power poll: “SF Kevin Durant, out with a sprained ankle, is expecting to play again soon, but the team is having patience with him. As well they should. The Thunder have gone 5-1 since Durant suffered the injury.”
Ball Don’t Lie Behind the Box Score: ”If you’re still assuming, you’re probably right about this one. Just as bad as you’d think it was. Both teams played very hard, make no mistake, and you can’t beat a close NBA game, but this was just drudgery to watch at times because of the talent limitations and the youth involved. Russell Westbrook was fine — 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists are nice — but he also turned it over seven times. Malik Rose continues to play well, but he’s Malik Rose. Jeff Green was back, which is great, but he also turned the ball over seven times. Thabo Sefolosha had 17 points, seven rebounds, five steals and one turnover, but he used to play for my favorite team and I miss him. Lots of caveats for the winners.”
Basketbawful Worst of the Night: “Sacramento Kings: Facing the still Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder at home, the Kings promptly sunk to the occasion, committing 24 turnovers that led to 21 bonus points for their foes. It was OKC’s fifth road win of the season. I guess the Kings just love giving! Despite the fact that Kevin Martin missed the final 15 minutes of the game with a sprained ankle, Sacramento still had a chance to tie the score with 5 ticks left. But Andres Nocioni shot an airball despite being wide open. Thabo Sefolosha was fouled and hit both foul shots, but Rashad McCants nailed a triple with 1.2 seconds left. Jeff Green threw the ball away, which gave the Kings possession and a chance for a miracle finish…but of course their final half-court lob hit nothing but the floor. Said Bobby Jackson: “We did a lot of good things, but we did a lot of bad things, too. We had a lot of turnovers, forced turnovers. We were throwing the ball and not taking out time. If we didn’t have those 22 turnovers, we definitely would have won the game.” Whatever. At 14-50, they once again have the league’s worst record.”
UPDATE: Thorpe’s rookie rankings and he’s still got Westbrook and Rose tied at the top: “One of the biggest keys to being a good perimeter shooter is making sure your shooting motion is directed straight at the target (the rim). This is much harder than it would seem. Golfers spend lots of hours trying to get “lined up” correctly so their swing can produce the correct ball flight. Shooters in basketball can relate. If you stand behind Westbrook, you can see that sometimes his shooting hand strokes the shot a foot to the right, which typically is the direction the ball takes, clanging off the side of the rim. This can be caused by poor alignment from his lower body, or not getting enough leg drive because of inadequate knee flex before the shot, or just a bad arm mechanic.”