Some of you might have read the article or seen the video from Bballbreakdown which adamantly states that Russell Westbrook is not a point guard, giving various reasons why. The site normally offers some pretty good NBA analysis, and I'd highly recommend visiting their YouTube Channel and their webpage. But this argument is as hardline and foolish as they come. It makes the assertion that in order to be a point guard, one has to be along the lines of Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams....none of whom have ever won a championship.
But before I get caught up in generalities, let's get straight down to the analysis. Also, I recommend you watch the Coach's video and read his article before delving into mine.
The coach starts out commenting on various things that don't have anything to do with Westbrook, like how good Danny Green and James Harden are. But on one of James Harden's highlights, Westbrook comes out as the star. In one of the plays where he's supposedly "out of control", he manages to drag EVERY SINGLE SPUR ON THE FLOOR into a 5 foot radius, leaving two Thunder players wide open on the perimeter.
Yep, I wasn't lying. Because he is so out on control and explosive, he was able to distract the entire opposing team, and pass to Harden for an easy triple.
Anyway, Coach Nick starts off the argument talking about Westbrook's defense, which he's mostly correct about. The thing I'd argue in general is that the Thunder are a team that likes to pressure the defense at all costs, and Westbrook is usually at the forefront of that pressure. Most of his criticism of Westbrook is a result of errors in judgement, like falling for a screen, not knowing when Sefolosha picked up his man, or sticking too close to his assignment. The first two points are valid, but I'd argue that no matter what Westbrook did to Parker, Parker was going to score. If Westbrook fell back on Parker, like the Coach is suggesting, he's opening the door for a whole lot of points. As evidence, I point to the 2 plays below, both of which started with Westbrook giving Parker breathing room, and both of them resulting in points for the Spurs.
Below: The entire shebang!
Now, Westbrook might have been a poor defender of Parker, but Parker spent a good portion of the game being guarded by Royal Ivey or James Harden, and they were making the same mistakes.
Anyway, on to the offense, which forms the meat of his argument. In the play below, Coach Nick talks about Westbrook going to the basket, and languishes him for being out of control, falling into the stands, and not getting back on defense. Now tell me, from this picture, does Westbrook look out of control to you?
Honestly, I have no problem with this play. He successfully avoided the help defense of Duncan and Blair, and he had a clear shot at the hoop. I know the play resulted in a blown layup, but 9 times out of 10, that shot is going to go in, regardless of where Westbrook lands.
The next argument is about him "yapping at the refs" on the next trip down the floor, so much so that he's not involved in the play, and that it's behavior unfitting of a point guard. While I think talking smack with the refs is dumb, especially on the second play of a game, I'd argue that the behavior is unfitting of anyone, not just point guards. Westbrook wasn't even involved in the next play anyway, as it was a Durant isolation on the opposite wing.
The coach's next argument might be the worst of them all. He chastises Westbrook for messing up the soon to come two man action between Harden and Collison on the wing. Below, you can see the drawn up play that Harden and Collison were supposed to run, and Westbrook with the ball. Westbrook ends up going to the wing himself and shooting a jumper.
While the result wasn't the greatest thing in the world, I'd argue that Westbrook was correct in "torpedoing" this play. Want to know what happened the other three times Harden and Collison went into their two man game?
It might be a bit hard to see, but all three plays resulted in a turnover. The first two were bad passes to Collison, and the third was Harden losing the handle. Two of those plays came before Westbrook's rightful "torpedoing" of the play, and one of them happened not even a minute prior. Honestly, I respect him for trying to make lemonade out of what he recognized as a bunch of lemons.
But then, (as shown above) the coach goes on to criticize Westbrook for pressuring the back court. Again, I don't have a real problem with this. Westbrook has gotten steals in the backcourt before. Plus, the Thunder were playing a small lineup at the time (with Ivey at SG, Harden at SF, and Durant at PF), so the whole objective of the defense was to get turnovers. If you see Matt Bonner in the backcourt all alone, attack! The likelihood that Collison is going to be mismatched with Anderson is minimal (Collison should have been on Blair anyway).
After this, he starts railing on Westbrook for not passing. The first missed pass was a pretty valid point, with Westbrook ignoring the fact that Duncan was just waiting for him to throw up a weak layup over Parker. But the second missed pass was just going to lead to a Harden isolation on the top of the arc (big whoop), and Westbrook ended up scoring anyway.
Then, he criticizes Westbrook's on-ball drives because they're out of control. The plays the Coach shows are very selective, but the so called "out of control" drive still resulted in a trip to the line. Again, where's the negative? The simple fact that it didn't work as well as the "in-control" drive? Later on, he discusses Westbrook being out of control when he grabs a steal and then ends up running into DeJuan Blair for a charge, as seen below.
Again, I know that the play ended badly, but it's Westbrook's out-of-controlness that got the steal in the first place. DeJuan Blair was extremely smart to set up for the charge, and I've seen other players do it before, but I'd commend Westbrook for the steal before I bashed him for being a bit too quick to the basket on a fast break.
The Coach goes on to talk about Westbrook's mid-range pull up jumpers. His main arguments against Westbrook's shots is that they're "streaky", they're too early in the shotclock, and that nobody is under the basket for a rebound. He seems to ignore the fact that for that shot to work, Westbrook has to take it before the defense is fully set. He also ignores the fact that a big man has to be on the top of the key to set the pick for that shot. Lastly, the shot is at a pretty darn high percentage, so I don't have a problem with him taking that shot 5-7 times a game.
The last thing the Coach talks about in relation to Westbrook is his situational play. It's pretty much the standard fare, questioning why Westbrook pulls up for quick threes and why he doesn't initiate offense and pass the ball. While I don't agree with Westbrook's use of the ball in every situation, I do acknowledge that he is the secondary scoring option on our team, and has the right to create for himself.
But now we get to the heart of the argument, don't we? Because Coach Nick, in the last part of the video, asserts that Westbrook just doesn't have the "mentality" to be a point guard. The reasoning given is that he "gets angry at the refs, stews over a bad play, can't let things go, and gets mad at his teammates". He also makes some strange connection to bartending, which is basically a thin metaphor saying that Westbrook is a bad psychiatrist and can't distribute the ball properly.
The piece d'resistance of his whole argument is the following table, which basically tells you that no championship team has had a point guard score as much of the team's points as Russell Westbrook has. That's right, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas are a whole five percentage points away from the amount of shots that Westbrook is currently taking.
Personally, I don't care whether you call Russell Westbrook a point guard or not. It's one of the most pointless debates that can be made for a constantly changing game. Positions are constantly being changed and re-defined as new strategies are developed and players become more athletic. For instance, nobody had heard of a small forward, much less a power forward, being able to shoot the ball before Don Nelson entered the coaching game. Today's game has a lot more scoring type guards manning the point guard position, and one only has to take a look at successful teams around the league (Bulls, Thunder) and developing teams (Bucks, Cavaliers, Wizards) to realize that this is a growing trend. Heck, you could even look at a few successful teams of the recent past (We Believe Warriors, Arenas' Wizards) to realize that this has been going on for a while. I don't understand why people are treating Westbrook like he's this totally new trend that needs to be contained.
But what I do take issue with is the statement that a championship team can't be formed with Westbrook at the point guard position. The list given shows people who were point guards, but it doesn't show who the primary ball handler was on those teams. John Paxson was technically the point guard, as were Ron Harper and Derek Fisher. But I can guarantee you that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant spent a good portion of the game bringing up the ball on those teams.
But Zeb, that's because they were some of the greatest players of all time! They could create for themselves!
Of course. And Westbrook can do so too. Didn't Coach Nick say, no, shout, that Westbrook was the third best shooting guard in the league? If this is so, and he has better passing abilities than the above two, I have no problem with him being the point guard.
But, let's say for the moment that we'd be better served by putting Westbrook at shooting guard. Didn't the coach say during the video that James Harden was much better at driving the ball because he was taller and longer, and thus better at finishing? If this is true, why in the heck would it make sense to put Westbrook there? His defenders are going to be taller and longer, and instead of having a matchup advantage against nearly every team, he now becomes someone of below-average height, and average quickness and strength. Great.
With Westbrook at SG, what do we do about the point guard position? For the sake of argument, let's say Eric Maynor isn't injured. For one, Maynor is extremely limited offensively. All I've ever seen him do are spot up jumpers and floaters in the lane. He can't challenge at the rim, and he'll never beat anyone on an isolation play. As an assist man, Maynor is pretty good, but he's no Steve Nash. Half of his assists just come off of dumping it to a shooter sitting right next to him, and the rest are him dribbling into the lane and hoping he pulls defenders or swinging it cross-court to someone for a three. I'm not trying to rip on the guy, because he's an excellent backup point guard. But when it comes to being a starter, he'd probably be in the bottom 5, somewhere on par with Luke Ridnour.
And, getting rid of the sake of argument, that means we'd be starting Reggie Jackson right now. His offense is moreso focused on attacking the rim, but it's still on par with Maynor's in terms of points. Plus, his assists are even less point guardish than Westbrook's are. Half of them come from when he's working off the ball, and another 25% are just dumpoffs to a guy right next to him ready to shoot a three. And who's going to play behind Jackson? Royal Ivey? Lazar Hayward? I shudder to think.
But, before I get too far in riding my high horse in the sunset, I must acknowledge that the coach's argument does have a grain of truth to it. Russell Westbrook is a basketcase emotionally, and it can take advantage of him at the worst of times. He gets stupid technicals, takes stupid shots at the worst times, and can get too focused on certain things (like deciding he's going to drive down the lane before he even crosses half-court). But he wasn't always like this. Before Perkins came to town, the Thunder were regularly among the teams with the least technicals. So his emotions can be contained, but it's something he has to figure out for himself. And, I have to admit, I love his passion. I'd much rather have my guys go bananas all of the time than look apathetic or smug on the floor. That kind of intensity, when contained, wins championships.
I guess I'll close this column by saying that Russell Westbrook is rough around the edges, and he'll never be a prototypical championship point guard. But, he is ideally suited for the point guard position in today's NBA. He's bigger and more athletic than most guards, allowing him to tear them up in the paint. He also is developing a hell of a mid-range shot, and his court vision has only improved with time. When paired with other guys who are good ball handlers and distributors, like Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Reggie Jackson, the team, as a whole, will be successful.
If, not when, the Thunder win a championship, Russell Westbrook will be at the helm. Playing point guard.
(By the way, this entire article was a glorified excuse for me to run this picture again.)
What do you think of Russell Westbrook as a point guard? Vote in the poll, post a comment!