(UPDATE: Right on cue, Russell Westbrook has been named this week’s Western Conference Player of the Week.)
There is a reason you’re supposed to stay patient with young point guards. Common sense says they will progress. They will improve. Stay patient, stick to the plan and you will be rewarded.
And that’s exactly what’s happening with Russell Westbrook. Everyone likes to talk about what Kevin Durant has done over the last 24 games, but how about Westbrook (since the Eric Maynor deal): 16.4 ppg, 8.5 apg, 4.9 rpg, 3.0 turnovers per game and 43 percent from the field. Right now, Westbrook is eighth in the league in assists (7.5 per game) and 20th among point guard in assist to turnover (2.36).
I mentioned before the season that this Oklahoma City squad was likely on track for around 35 wins unless Russell Westbrook started to make a leap into stardom. Well, I think he’s doing precisely that. Just like Durant a year ago, Westbrook is really making strides in the new year, even more so in February. The sample size is small, but in three games thus far this month, Westbrook is averaging 19.7 ppg, 9.7 apg, 8.0 rpg, 3.3 steals per game and only 1.7 turnovers per game. And he’s shooting over 47 percent from the field.
Rewind two months ago. Westbrook was a daily topic of Thunder discussion. Some said he’s not a point guard nor will he ever be. Some wondered where he could fit in with this team. Some wished for Ricky Rubio. We all wondered whether or not Westbrook was going to be the point guard you could rely upon down the stretch of an important game. Last week, he gave you three pretty good examples that yes, you can.
Derrick Rose is an All-Star and gets a ton of praise nationally, and deservedly so. But compare Westbrook’s numbers to Rose. Rose averages 19.9 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.8 rpg, shoots 47 percent from the floor and has an assists to turnover of 2.06. In a lot of ways, Westbrook is outperforming the All-Star Rose. Now, don’t get this twisted and think I’m saying Westbrook is better than Rose or something. But what I think should be pretty obvious is that Westbrook deserves more credit throughout the league for making a huge improvement in his second season. I still get questions about Westbrook being a point guard and if OKC should look for a more veteran presence. Heck, there was some questions a few weeks back wondering if Eric Maynor would be better starting at point with Westbrook off the ball. Thankfully, I think we’re nearing a close to those discussions.
For perspective’s sake, here are some other top point guards in their second seasons:
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And compare that to their numbers in their rookie campaigns:
[table “16” not found /]
My point there isn’t saying, “Look! Russell Westbrook is going to be as good as them!” but it’s more saying, look Westbrook is right on track to be a really, really, really good point guard. Different guys blossom at different times, but it’s clear Westbrook has serious talent and right now, he’s blooming like sunflower in June. I’ll keep saying it over and over again: It’s easy to lose sight that this guy and this team is so young. He’s a 21-year-old second-year point guard. And he’s maturing into one of the 10 best in the entire league. With the recent injuries in the West, you could make a legitimate case that Westbrook should be an All-Star. Whoever gets chosen to replace Brandon Roy/Carmelo Anthony/Kobe Bryant will have a resume similar to, or not as good as Westbrook. It’s true.
He’s naturally progressing the way Sam Presti and Scott Brooks thought he would. He had some rough patches. He’ll have many more. The elite point men in this league aren’t flawless. They have bad games. But what Westbrook is doing is forgetting about those 2-12, five turnover nights and putting up a stellar line the next. And more importantly, he’s helping his club win. You hang with young point guards with talent and you’ll be rewarded. Any time you give a 21-year-old the ball for 35 minutes a game, he’s bound to screw up. But if you keep letting him have it and he’s willing to work and learn, you’ll reap the benefits.
Durant is getting a long look for Most Improved. Well, why not Westbrook? His maturation and progression is reason 1A as to why this team is eight games over and sitting in seventh in the West right now. Durant’s ascension into unquestioned superstardom is a huge part of it, but Westbrook has become a playmaker this team can rely upon in the late stages of a game. And plus, over the last few weeks, his defense has jumped by leaps and bounds, accented nicely by his eight steals against Golden State.
But here we are a little past the midseason point, approaching the All-Star break and it appears things are just about set in Thunderland. Kevin Durant is the superstar he’s supposed to be. Jeff Green is the glue guy this team needs. Thabo Sefolosha is the stopper. And Russell Westbrook is the point guard to make it all go. I don’t know if many saw that happening this time last year.