If Russell Westbrook was drafted in 2007 and KD in 2008, would people say this is Westbrook’s team? — Derek E.
That’s, a good question. It’s never been a question of whose team it is because KD has always been the alpha. Westbrook joined Durant, not the other way around.
But I think it would still be Durant’s, just because of the way the two entered the league. KD was seen as the next superstar scorer, a guy that would certainly play in All-Star games and make some All-NBA teams. When Westbrook was picked, he was seen as a reach, a guy that was taken because of his defense. There wasn’t a single person, other than Russell Westbrook, that said “this guy is going to be a star.” Durant’s had that look in him since he mowed people down as a freshman at Texas.
That’s a pretty good chicken-or-the-egg type of thing though because seniority does count for something. And I wonder what Westbrook would’ve looked like as the fourth overall pick taking over as the new face for a terrible team. Would he be a different player? Would he have a different mindset?
Obviously, the reason this question and a lot others like it have been asked is because people are kind of wondering if maybe, truly, really, this might be Westbrook’s team. He’s routinely taking a lot of shots, hitting big ones in crunch time against marquee opponents and putting his stamp on memorable moments.
It’s definitely not. KD is the voice of the team. He’s the leader. He’s the only player that the media want to speak with after games. He has a set time pregame that reporters are allowed to talk to him because he’s the only player that consistently draws interest every night. The way it was his voice that boomed loudest about the You-Know-Who controversy in defending Westbrook, the way he handles crunch time, the way he effortlessly defers to get teammates going but can step in and take over when needed — all of that just screams that KD owns this team.
I really think the Westbrook-Durant dynamic is as good as it has ever been because both are completely willing to interchange that alpha role game to game. There’s no tug of war between the two. There’s no evident tension between shots. The spotlight of the playoffs can change things, but entering the postseason, that relationship is in as rock solid a place as ever.
I was wondering if you can come up with “Why the Thunder won’t win a championship with Scott Brooks at head coach.” I believe it would be just as popular as ” Why the Thunder won’t win a championship with Russ at the point guard.” I feel that Brooks doesn’t have the guts to make changes for the better of the team. I don’t see him going with Harden at point and Russ at the 2 down the stretch if Russ is having a bad game in forcing shots/turnovers. I agree Brooks has terrible offensive sets and he relies too much on Individual talent, Russ/KD/Harden’s one on one ability and Ibaka’s shot blocking to bail out poor defense. Is he willing to go up to our big three and change their bad habits? What are Brooks positives as a coach ? — Randall
First part, about Brooks’ guts. I think he’s already answered that question. Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, he sat Russell Westbrook in favor of Eric Maynor, essentially kicking off the “Westbrook isn’t a point guard the Thunder are better without him trade Russell” fanfare. Brooks knew what he was doing. He knew there would be backlash. But all he had on his mind at that time was winning the game against the Mavs. That’s it. So he made the tough call and left Westbrook on the bench. And the team was better for it. Not only did OKC win, but I think Westbrook grew from that moment.
Is Scott Brooks a championship coach? Nobody is until they win it. Rick Carlisle was never seen as a guy that could get it done… until he did. Jerry Sloan has never won a title — is he not a championship worthy coach? Same with George Karl. Same with Vinny Del Negro (OK, bad example).
I honestly don’t think Brooks has received enough credit for his work with this team. There are issues and struggles, but every group has them. I think we’d all agree there have been major advancements and improvements with this team since the postseason last year, and it has come without a major acquisition that made the roster better. It’s been internal development. Brooks has turned to more of a hybrid offense, interchanging point guards, letting Westbrook play off the ball, letting Durant run point, moving KD to the 4. All in all, it’s taken the Thunder to the best offensive team in the game. Early season issues like ball movement and turnovers have gradually improved through the season. And the defense is coming along at the right time.
Is Brooks a good enough coach to win a title? I don’t know. Because you don’t know that until it’s done. Is Tom Thibodeau a good enough coach to win a title? Is Stan Van Gundy? Doc Rivers was seen as a dead man walking in Boston before he got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Now he’s a “championship coach.” You don’t have to be Gregg Popovich or Red Auerbach to win a championship. You’ve got to have good players and know when to get out of their way.
OK, I’ll be the one to write the over-the-top, gushing James Harden email. Is it bad that I can’t fully enjoy his season knowing that the price tag on him goes up with every crazy-efficient scoring night that makes you seriously consider if he just might be the most valuable player on this team. Even more crazy, is there another shooting guard you would rather have on your team right now? You made the argument that he has nearly solidified himself as the No. 3 shooting guard in the league behind Kobe and D-Wade, but with how well he runs an offense from that position, I don’t know that I would take either of those two over him on my team. That’s probably an exaggeration, but how much longer until he is considered one of the 25 best players in the league. Is he there already?! — Chris H.
Then you must’ve enjoyed last week. I understand the issue though. I’ve had multiple people whether it be media types of others tell me they think Harden is a max player. I think that’s a bit exaggerated but then again, a lot of general managers are stupid and overpay players. People that know basketball realize how good a player Harden is. I don’t need to spend 200 words telling you about it. But it’s true — the better he plays, the more his price goes up.
I’ve kind of chosen to take a more immediate view of things. There’s still this season and next guaranteed with Harden. Questions don’t have to be answered until then. Could he be a max guy on a bad team? Potentially. But he could also understand his value to this team and rather get paid to stay. I talked to Harden for a feature I wrote for a magazine recently and I asked him if he ever wonders what it would be like being the man on the Bobcats or Pistons. He said he does a little, but in the end always would rather be on a winning team. I think the same thing might apply with his future. I’m not suggesting he’s going to take a bunch less, but if he gets an extension offer from the Thunder for $12 million a year or something, he might just say, “That’s fine, I’ll take it” and never know what he might’ve garnered in restricted free agency.
But again, that’s a question for this summer.
This lockout season has really affected offenses, and team offensive efficiency is down across the board. Teams (like OKC) that have continuity and youth seem to have the advantage with the lack of time for practice and rest. Also, the elite defensive teams no longer reside in the West. I’m wondering if what looks like an elite offense this season relative to the other teams is just an illusion. Should we take comfort in the fact that our team has the No. 1 offense in the league, or is this unique season just making the Thunder look better than they really are? (and on a side note, why are we all so worried about offense, when the bigger issue is defense?) — Eric K.
I think that’s a worthy point. Offense does change in the playoffs. Games slow down, possessions are more important and players play a bit harder. It’s just the way it is.
But offense doesn’t just disappear in the postseason. It’s not like the game changes THAT much. Great offense will be good in the playoffs, bad offense will be bad. There were games in the postseason last year where OKC’s offense looked unstoppable. Game 5 against Memphis. Game 2 against Denver. Game 2 against Dallas. The first 45 minutes of Game 4 against Dallas. The thing is, you just can’t rely on that kind of offense to consistently get you through.
When you face the same team four, five, six or seven times in a two-week span, they figure you out. It becomes more about who has the better players, who is going to hit the big shots, who is going to be able to get key stops and who is going to make the decisive plays. The reason people say defense wins championships is because you can’t count on hot shooting or terrific ball movement every night. But if you can fall back on a tough defense that can get you stops and win a game where you shoot 39 percent, that might be enough to push you to the next round.
Get the No. 1 seed and play the Grizzlies in Round 2 or get the No. 2 and play the Lakers? — Nate G.
Home court. Always take the home court advantage.
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