Five minutes don’t go by without me changing my mind on Ricky Rubio or James Harden. I’ll start to get really excited about Harden and all the intangibles he can bring. But then I see a couple Rubio highlights and I picture him on a fast break with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and I forget all about that other guy. I’ll get intrigued by Rubio’s potential and flash but then on the other hand, I see Harden’s need. Of course, there’s some outside options (Steph Curry, Hasheem Thabeet), or Memphis could make up Oklahoma City’s mind for it by taking one or the other, but I get the feeling Sam Presti is picking between these two guys.
But one thing’s holding some people back on Rubio, potentially one of those people even being Russell Westbrook. The Thunder’s already got a point guard and he may not want to move over.
When Westbrook was asked about Rubio getting picked by OKC, which would mean he’d slide to the 2 he replied, “You trippin’.” Doesn’t sound like he’s thrilled about the idea. But you never know how he said it. He may have said it with a huge grin on his face and maybe followed up with, “Of course I’m down with doing whatever’s best for the team though.” Westbrook has said repeatedly that he wants to be a point guard and I don’t doubt him. I wanted to be an astronaut but at some point I had to realize maybe that wasn’t happening. (Not to say Russ isn’t a point guard by any means. I’m just saying that if he has to slide over, I’m sure he’d rather play than sit.)
I know the report today is that Westbrook wouldn’t be happy about Rubio stepping in. And that’s fine, I’d understand that. But I don’t think it should be taken as a “You’re not a point guard, move over” type of thing. And I don’t think Westbrook would take it that way. Sure, maybe he’d be a little bothered by the fact he was getting pushed over for the new guy, but the game of basketball is a free flowing thing. It’s not like the Colts drafting Sam Bradford and telling Peyton Manning he has to be a tight end. The ball will still be in Westbrook’s hands plenty and he’ll probably stay every bit the point guard he is right now. Because if we’re honest with ourselves, and Russ is honest with himself, it’s not like he’s going to be a player like Steve Nash that racks up 15 or 16 assists. He’s a scoring point guard and that’s what he wants to be.
I worry a little about offending Russ. He seems intent on being a point guard and I’d hate to hurt his confidence by bringing in Rubio. If that report is accurate, then that’s a little bothersome. It doesn’t sound like the Westbrook I’ve watched and listened to for a year though. He never struck me as a prima-donna, I-get-what-I-want-and-I’ll-ask-out-if-I-don’t-get-it kind of player. He seems like a do-what’s-best-for-the-team kind of guy. But I could be wrong.
And I’d understand Westbrook being a little bothered by it. That’s natural. You don’t want to feel like what you did last year wasn’t good enough. But hopefully any animosity and chemistry issues could be put aside for the sake of a good team. But if that’s not possible, hear me now – don’t mess with a good thing. Take Harden, take Curry, God-forbid take Thabeet. If Westbrook is truly serious, I’d rather have a guy that just finished a rookie season 15-5-5 and has the whole league buzzing over an 18-year-old that nobody really knows anything about outside of a few Internet videos. But that’s just me.But I think the two can play together as a combo point. Just like some baseball teams have a closer by committee, OKC could have point guard by committee. But this would have them both pitching at the same time. Sure there’s questions about them both being “below-average” jumpshooters. But it’s not like their not going to get better. Westbrook is 19. Rubio is 18. Umm, I think they’ll improve their shots.
My theory about Sam Presti’s strategy is that he prefers tweeners. He likes guys that can move over a spot and play shooting guard. Or maybe they can play big and step in at the 4. He likes the flexibility versatile players give him. That way in situations like this, he has breathing room. When Presti drafted Westbrook last year, I don’t think he had an idea of where he was going to play. He just knew Westbrook had the ability and the skill to get it done. A guy like Stephen Curry is the same way. He doesn’t fit a position perfectly, but he’s too good to keep off the court so you figure it out.
If the Thunder were to take Ricky Rubio tomorrow night, that flexibility would come in handy. Westbrook could just slide to the 2-guard, right? Potentially wrong. Because I think Presti may even want moreversatility on the court. As in two point guards. We saw it a ton last year. Westbrook and Earl Watson together for extended minutes. Shaun Livingston and Russ together. Chucky Atkins and Westbrook. Kyle Weaver running point with Westbrook off the ball. There’s nothing wrong with two ball-handlers on the court together. In fact, that could make the offense that much more dynamic.
Rubio is the distributor. The guy that wants to pass, wants to make teammates better. And Westbrook could continue to do what he likes doing – driving recklessly at the bucket and scoring and creating. Just because Russ would technically be penciled in at shooting guard in the box score doesn’t mean he would have the ball in his hands. They can feed off each other. If Presti took Curry I think the same thing would happen. Heck, if he took James Harden I think Westbrook and Harden would share a lot of the ball-handling duties. Even if OKC goes with Thabeet, you’ll see a lot of Livingston-Westbrook, Thabo-Westbrook, Weaver-Westbrook anyway. Scott Brooks said one time that he sees five point guards playing together in the NBA in 10 years. Maybe that’s the vision they have now.
But people don’t seem to necessarily get the idea of Westbrook and Rubio together. They don’t seem to understand that while Westbrook is a fantastic talent, he’s not necessarily a pure point guard. And he probably won’t ever be. But that’s a good thing. Westbrook wasn’t drafted to stand out front, take five shots, pass and cut through and have 14 assists. He’s a playmaker, a rover, a guy that just lets the flow of the game direct him. Westbrook is a hybrid player that can fit and flow in most any situation. And that’s what makes him such a dynamic talent. Coupling that with a player like Rubio could render fantastic results. And I’m sure if Westbrook doesn’t understand that today, that could be easily explained to him.
Like I said, this could be the best thing for Westbrook. Being in a backcourt with another guy that can distribute and set him up so that he can roam the floor and fly around like he loves to. Just because Ricky Rubio’s name is called tomorrow night with the third pick doesn’t mean the Russell Westbrook point guard experience is over. It’s still just beginning. You could make a case that Dwyane Wade plays as much point as Mario Chalmers. Or that Brandon Roy is as much a point guard as Steve Blake. In this league players aren’t type-cast for a position anymore. You better be able to move over or move around or we’ll find someone that can. It’s OK for a guy to be versatile. Heck, like I said, I think that’s Presti’s intent.
Honestly, I’m not sure it’s going to matter a whole lot who Presti picks. Much of what shapes a draft pick is the situation they find themselves in. And either Harden or Rubio will walk into a place with a ton of talent, a hungry coach and a management plan that’s as good as you’ll find. This team will attempt to execute the vision Presti and Scott Brooks have regardless of who is wearing the jerseys.
Of course this is all irrelevant if someone else’s name is called tomorrow night. But I just don’t want anyone to freak out about the idea of a Rubio-Westbrook backcourt. Especially someone named Russell Westbrook. I actually get pretty excited thinking about it. And I would hope everyone else would too.
If I had to guess right now, I think OKC takes Rubio. I would have said Harden two days ago, but I think Presti wants Rubio. Ask me again in 10 minutes and I’ll be back to Harden. Another five and maybe I’ll think Curry. Another 15 and maybe I’ll say Thabeet. To which I’ll plunge myself into a bed of hot coals.
But we’ll all know tomorrow night and I think we’ll be alright with whatever happens. Say it with me, I Believe In Sam Presti.