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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thunder Veteran: Russell Westbrook Thinks He’s Better than Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City is in the Western Conference Finals and one of only four teams left in the NBA playoffs. Because of their success in the postseason they’ve received a great deal of media attention, and most of it has been focused on the perceived selfish play of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been criticized for taking too many shots, taking low-percentage shots, and not deferring to superstar Kevin Durant frequently enough.

Durant has defended Westbrook repeatedly throughout the postseason, as has coach Scott Brooks. They both have said this is the way Westbrook has played all season and it’s led to success. But an issue developed following Game 2 when Brooks left Westbrook on the bench the entire fourth quarter in Dallas while Eric Maynor led the team to victory. Though Westbrook said after the game he was fine being on the bench since they won, he seemed to be bothered by it. Westbrook could be seen yelling at his coach from the sideline immediately after getting pulled.

One Thunder veteran reportedly told the NY Daily News via Ben Maller that Westbrook “thinks he’s better than Kevin Durant,” and that’s part of the reason he’d be upset to be out of the game.

Oklahoma City is a young team, so it’s pretty easy to narrow down the list of players who could have said that. Only Royal Ivey, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, and Nazr Mohammed have more than five years of NBA experience amongst Thunder players. My money is on Perkins just because he’s a new guy who isn’t as attached to the situation, though I could be wrong. That really is immaterial; what matters is if it’s true.

I’ve always said you want players on your team who are confident. How are they supposed to do well if they don’t believe in themselves? Shouldn’t they feel like they’re the best player in the league? Shouldn’t players play with confidence? Of course that’s what you want, but you also have to balance that with the team mentality, and that’s been challenging for Westbrook.

Russell is a talented, score-first mentality guard. From high school to college, Westbrook was never a true point guard who distributed the ball — he’s always been a scorer. When Oklahoma City (then Seattle) drafted him fourth overall in 2008, they did so with the objective of turning him into the team’s point guard. Though the Thunder has been successful thanks largely to his efforts, he does not run enough offensive sets and he hasn’t given Kevin Durant the ball in situations where KD should have it. Durant is a better outside shooter than Westbrook and he should be trusted for outside shots late in games as the team’s first option. If Westbrook isn’t passing to him because he believes he’s a better player, then that’s bad for the team.

A lot of people were saying that the Westbrook-Durant relationship is becoming like a Marbury-Garnett one. Stephon Marbury infamously got himself traded away from Minnesota because he wanted to be the star player on his team and he couldn’t do that with Kevin Garnett around. His selfishness broke up what could have been a great combination and it hurt both players’ careers.

Hopefully Westbrook doesn’t let the same issue become the case in Oklahoma City because they can have a special team, but Westbrook needs to play with a team-first mentality more frequently and learn when it’s better to pass the ball. He’s a great player, and he should feel like he’s the best player in the league, but as a point guard, he needs to be thinking of the team before anything else.

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