During last night's broadcast when we once again saw some of the growing pains of a young team learning to play on the largest stage, ABC color commentator and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy had something very interesting to say regarding Russell Westbrook and a player whom Westbrook is often compared to:
Per Darnell Mayberry at NewsOK:
NBA coach turned television analyst Jeff Van Gundy with some wise words during the broadcast. "If I had one regret about my time coaching Steve Francis [in Houston] is I tried to change too much too soon," Van Gundy said. "That's why I love what Scott Brooks has done. Russell Westbrook has gotten better rapidly...And the point is he has improved. He's improved dramatically."
Van Gundy coached Steve "Franchise" Francis in a Rockets uniform for a year during the 2003-04 season, and if you recall anything about Francis' career, there were a lot of similarities playing style-wise between he and Westbrook. They were both uber-athletic but non-traditional point guards who could score a ton of points but needed time to learn how to play the point position. Their respective coaches were tasked at molding that raw talent into something that would manifest in wins. Van Gundy, in a humble statement here, admits that he failed to develop Francis' talent, and by contrast praised the way Brooks has handled Westbrook's early progress.
Amidst all of the public clamor that Westbrook "is not a point guard!" or that "he will never lead his team to a championship!" or that, "that was the worst 1st half by a point guard in the history of basketball!" Van Gundy's admission here gives us some insight on how coaches view the prodigious talents at their disposal. Van Gundy knows what it is like to have a promising guard who doesn't fit the mold, and it is encouraging to see a public figure stand up for what Brooks and Westbrook are trying to accomplish. In a strong sense, Van Gundy is taking everyone to task over their criticism of Westbrook, because for critics to claim that "he'll never be...!" demonstrates willful ignorance of everything that both Westbrook and Brooks have worked through up to this point.
If Francis is a bit before your time, here are some career highlights: