Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks 115-109 on Thursday night, but it served as another game that they had no business winning. Can head coach Scott Brooks make things right before the playoffs?
Seems like everyone loves to talk about Russell Westbrook, and we will, in a moment.
For now, lets talk about the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder won another game that they probably had no business winning. When you're as talented as OKC, these things tend to happen. In the case for the Thunder versus the Dallas Mavericks, OKC outscored Dallas 38-24 in the fourth quarter + overtime period to win 111-105 to push their home winning streak to 15 games.
Kevin Durant was amazing, by the way.
That boy is good.
Serge Ibaka was a terror on both ends of the floor (19 points, 17 rebounds) and Kevin Martin was efficiently lethal (18 points, 7 rebounds) off the Thunder bench. Yet and still the Thunder found a way into settling (or choosing) poor shots in the halfcourt set, and the primary target for blame was everybody's favorite "point guard" to hate in Westbrook.
Westbrook's final stat line on Thursday night was an impressive one at first glance: 16 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds has become the norm for Russ. Unfortunately, so has the 7-20 shooting performance that he put up while being guarded by his former teammate from UCLA in Darren Collison. Maybe Collison had a few tricks up his sleeve in guarding Russ, but even with the Thunder winning 22 of their first 28 games, Westbrook's shooting efficiency has been at an all-time low only lower than his rookie season.
When I observe Westbrook, certain things are obvious. He's still shooting those ill-fated pull-up jumpers that are indefensible and indefensible. No defender can stop Westbrook's pull-up jumper, but if the jumper isn't falling then the jumper becomes another casualty on the efficient Thunder offense. Every time Westbrook does this, its a missed opportunity to get someone involved. Be it Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka down low, or Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin on the wing, or to make things even easier for the almighty Kevin Durant. Building up the flow of the offense and making folks happy can have long-term implications for everyone involved. The offense runs smoother, the defense is impassioned because everyone feels included, and the bench plays better with the starters because they know they'll have a chance to contribute. This all falls on Russie's shoulders.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again. I think Russell Westbrook's performance thus far 28 games into the season has been admirable. More ball handling. More distribution. More scoring. More leadership. All of these things shifted his way as the Harden trade commenced. Ranking in the top six in points, assists and steals thus far is no laughing matter, and his poor shooting should return to form eventually.
However, the thought I have is in wondering if Scott Brooks' recognizes that what's going on is something that deserves their attention and is adjustable. I mean, you have Maurice Cheeks and yourself on the bench for a reason, right? You're former point guards in the league who are now coaching the most energetic, athletic and hard working player maybe in the entire league. Isn't the ultimate coaching job right in front of them?
It could make all the difference in winning an NBA championship versus merely watching them on television. Setting up the offense, deferring once or twice more when the situation allows, keeping ones emotions in check. All things that the head coach has the opportunity to address, and are things that Westbrook can let sink in and build from.
In Jordan Rules, Phil Jackson once said that rebellion shows livelihood in the troops as they prepare for war. It shows that the soldiers ultimately do care, and their emotions can come out in lashes. The frustratingly brilliant Westbrook personifies this all the time. Be it on the bench, on the court or in some remote location. Coaching up could and should continue to commence for the young point guard, and managing their floor general is still a work in progress.
Is Scott Brooks about that life? You know, developing his star pupil even more and more? Well find out soon enough, hopefully in June.