SLAM Magazine writer Leo Sepkowitz recently constructed an article entitled, "Fixing the NBA's Point Guard Problem". (Hat tip to Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog.) In the article, he explores the possibility of trading point guards to teams where they might fit. The first and most discussed potential trade in his article is that of Russell Westbrook for Rajon Rondo of the Celtics. He gives a thorough explanation, but the heart of the point is this:
The Thunder need a point guard who passes first, setting up Kevin Durant and James Harden to be the leading scorers rather than one who tries too hard to make things happen on his own. Unfortunately, Westbrook is shaping into the latter. In fact, it looks like he might be more of a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body than anything, much like Allen Iverson when he first started in the league. Once Iverson was allowed to roam free as a shooting guard who sometimes brought the ball up, he was able to develop into prolific the scorer that he became.
I wouldn't necessarily agree with anything he said above. First of all, the Thunder lost the Conference Finals and had the Semi-Finals go to seven games because they had a lack of offense. Taking Westbrook out of the equation and putting in Rondo just takes more of that offense away and forces you to rely on the less skilled Thunder players for points. And having to rely on a guy like Ibaka or Collison to deliver offensively on a nightly basis is kind of like flipping a coin.
Below: Why we shouldn't blame Westbrook completely for the offensive collapses, making up for Westbrook's turnovers and lack of assists, Iverson vs. Westbrook, and the conclusion!
Lots of people look at the end of Playoff games and blame Westbrook for not generating offense, but you can't pin it completely on him. The Thunder's offense consists largely of players who make offense their own, like the mentioned Durant and Harden. Neither of them do things like roll of of screens or look for open jumpshots. Rather, they run things like isolation plays, rhythm jumpers, and deep threes, because they're not going to get a lot of slack from their defenders. The types of players who could use Westbrook's help are guys like Perkins, Cook, Ibaka, and Collison, because they rely on the ball handler to make a move that puts them in position to score. And while, admittedly, he needs to do more to get them involved, all but Perkins usually get an apt chance to score. Also, losing the extra 12 Points a game that Westbrook provides over Rondo would be detrimental.
At this point, you might be saying that Rondos extra assists and lack of turnovers would make up for that, but I think the Thunder already do make up for that. They do it with James Harden, who has extremely good court vision for a two guard. He only gets two assists a game, but if he's stuck on a drive, he knows exactly the right person to throw it to in order to keep the ball moving. Additionally, they do it with Eric Maynor, who serves as a cool orchestrator when Westbrook gets a bit too rowdy.
Lastly, Allen Iverson is nothing like Russell Westbrook. A quick glance at the stat sheet might lead you to believe that, but they play the game in entirely different ways. Allen Iverson was small for the NBA at 6'0" and 165 pounds, but he more than made up for it with his quickness and ability to trick other players around the basket. This allowed him to beat any type of defender, and be a matchup nightmare for a larger guard. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook is much bigger than Allen Iverson, and therefore not as quick. As a result, he has to make up for his quickness with his physical strength and athleticism. He can overpower the smaller point guards in the league, making him a matchup nightmare at point guard, but his offense would be limited were he moved to shooting guard like Iverson was. Additionally, Westbrook can't create his own lane to the basket, like Iverson could. He has to find an open lane to drive in, so he can build up steam going to the basket and finish with a bang. He can do this much better while playing point guard, because he can more easily set a pick for himself or find gaps in the defense when he's holding the ball. In short, if you were to treat Westbrook like Iverson, you would limit him offensively because he's not as effective against bigger defenders, and he's better at creating plays for himself while the ball is in his hands.
To make a long story short, people are treating our team like it's one plagued with problems. But I think a lot of people need to be reminded that we just got to the Conference Finals with three of our starters still on their rookie contracts, and a center who was playing at 60% health. There are growing pains to be had with a point guard like Westbrook, but they can be overcome as he realizes how to incorporate passing skills into his game. And offering a solution like sticking him at shooting guard or taking away the offense he provides by trading for Rondo isn't what the Thunder need to do.
But, enough of my rambling. What do you think about this hypothetical trade? Vote in the poll, post a comment!