What I find so ridiculous about this article is that it sounds so similar to criticisms written about Kobe Bryant, a ball hog who put up great offensive numbers but hadn’t been a truly great two-way player since 2010. Even the king of Laker haters, Bill Simmons, voted for Kobe as MVP in 2006. Now, all of that negativity is being thrown on Westbrook, even though he averaged over 10 assists per game this season.
Let’s look at the author’s main points:
- He doesn’t like the way Westbrook plays (personal opinion)
- He doesn’t like the way Westbrook reacts to the press and tries to make this symbolize something wrong with the way Westbrook plays (petty personal interpretation)
- Everyone in his office loves Westbrook, so he’ll take some heat (perhaps true, but completely irrelevant)
- He didn’t pass enough to Durant in 2012 (probably true, but absolutely irrelevant to the reality of the current team)
The only sound basketball argument is to point out that Westbrook is shooting his team out of the game in the fourth quarters of this playoff series. But is he?
Look at Westbrook’s numbers in the fourth quarter of the three competitive games: game 2 (4/18, fg, 7/8 ft, 1 reb, 2 ast, 1 to), game 3 (3/7, 3/6 ft, 3 reb, 0 ast, 2 stl, 2 turnovers), game 4 (5/11 fg, 5/6 ft, 0 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 2 to). Clearly, game 2 was horrible because Westbrook was 1 for 10 on shots beyond 22 feet. But in game 3, he only took one three-pointer, and in game 4 he was 3 for 7 from beyond the arc, giving him an EFG of 59%.
Based on his three incredible consecutive triple doubles, we could expect 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in each quarter of these games. What we find is that averaged only 1.33 rebounds and 1.33 assists in these three fourth quarters.
But why is this?
How do you explain his teammates helping him build double digit leads during the first three quarters of games 2, 3, 4, but blowing those leads in the short time Westbrook goes out of the game?
Is Westbrook going into hyper-Black Mamba mode because he wants to be the hero? Or is it in response to the way his teammates have completely choked in crunch time? Or is he just getting fatigued and can’t keep up his super-human level of play?
Each person has their own opinion on this subject, but let’s look at how each superstar and their mouthpiece (the coach) reacted to losing a key playoff game:
2012 Lakers-Thunder, Game 2: Kobe almost single-handedly blows a 7-point lead in the last two minutes with two turnovers and a bad 3-pointer. He has a temper tantrum on the court when World Peace passes the ball to a wide open Steve Blake in the corner on the last play of the game. Coach Mike Brown throws Artest under the bus.
2017 Thunder-Rockets, Game 4: the bench turned a 4-point lead into a 3-point deficit when Westbrook entered the game. Westbrook was solid, while Roberson missed 6 out of 8 free throws down the stretch, and the Rockets scored 40 points while shooting 50%.
In response, Westbrook defended his teammates, saying “I don’t want nobody trying to split us up, we are one team … we’re in this together, don’t try to make us go against each other. I don’t want to hear that.” (BTW, I have never heard a more obnoxious journalist badgering a player with the same question than I did watching that post-game interview, regardless of how “mundane” the question may have appeared in text.)
Coach Billy Donavan gushed positively about Andre Roberson, gushed over Oladipo, praised the bench during game 3, avoided putting down the bench at all costs (“that group I thought played well, but I didn’t think we made.. necessarily particular shots in that situation…), complained about fouls on three-points shots (“I don’t blame Russell for trying to do it when Williams and Harden get those calls”).
In 2012, Kobe actively tried to take over the end of games, and his teammates stopped moving without the ball. But he still had All-Stars in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum that year, and the same Metta World Peace who hit a game clinching 3-pointer to win the 2010 NBA Finals.
Now, let’s look at Westbrook’s current team. Who does Westbrook have on the team to hit a big three? Oladipo (34.6% career 3-point shooter, currently 4/16 in the playoffs)? Roberson (26% career 3-point shooter, but can’t make a free throw)? Grant (30.6% career 3-point shooter, 1/3 in the series)? Cole (32.4% career 3-point shooter, currently 2/8 in the playoffs)?
Houston is clearly the better team. They have three good to excellent 3-point shooters on the floor at all times (Ariza, Gordon, Andersen, Beverly) when Harden is on the floor, so the floor is always spread, giving Harden easy driving lanes. If they get a good rebounding game from their big and a couple of long rebounds that bounce in their direction, they are almost impossible to stop.
If Harden and Westbrook switched teams, Houston would still be the better team.
As a matter of fact, if the Thunder switched conferences, they would win a few extra games and be a #4 seed at worst, giving them a good chance to make a deep run, considering they are 5–3 against the top 4 teams in the East.
All this talk about Westbrook being stopped or that his season is like an eating contest because he couldn’t turn his less talented team into a more talented team is just as ridiculous as when people trashed Kobe for blowing a 3–1 lead against Phoenix back in 2006, or insisting that Lebron was a loser because he couldn’t bring Cleveland a championship before he escaped to Miami.