Top five picks like Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook enter the league to much fanfare and lofty expectations. As the surprise pick in this year's draft, however, Westbrook won't have the same hype as Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. But the recent history of rookie point guards suggests Thunder fans should also have tempered expectations for this year's No. 4 overall pick. In the last 10 NBA seasons, only five rookie point guards have averaged at least 12 points and six assists: Chris Paul in 2005-06, Kirk Hinrich in 2003-04, Steve Francis in 1999-00 and Mike Bibby and Jason Williams in 1998-99. Not Baron Davis. Not Gilbert Arenas. Not Deron Williams. Not Tony Parker. "It's going to be very challenging for Russell,” said Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo. "But he showed already in Orlando and at UCLA what he's capable of.” Paul, Hinrich, Francis, Bibby and Williams were given free reign to make mistakes as rookies. All four held the starting job from Day 1 and averaged at least 35 minutes. With seven-year veteran and last year's starter Earl Watson returning, it's doubtful Westbrook will receive enough minutes to reach such statistical production. Watson, in a career year, averaged 10.7 points and 6.8 assists last season, proving how difficult it will be for Westbrook to produce overly impressive stats. And with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green as the focal points of the offense, Westbrook must also learn to find his own opportunities while effectively getting Durant and Green enough touches. In projecting Westbrook's rookie season stats, perhaps the most logical player for comparison is Williams, Utah's No. 3 overall pick in 2005. Williams averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 28.8 minutes as a rookie alongside Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. He played 80 games, 47 as a starter while splitting time with Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio. For as good as Williams has become, even he struggled with the complexity of the position in his first season. But Carlesimo is high on Westbrook and is entering Tuesday's training camp with confidence in his rookie. While fans are likely to fall in love with Westbrook's high-flying dunks, Carlesimo likes what he calls Westbrook's "fundamental game,” defined by his stellar defense, stout work ethic and strong confidence. "That alone is going to get him playing time, both at point guard and shooting guard,” Carlesimo said. But don't expect gaudy numbers.
With John Lucas IIIWhat's it like to get another opportunity to showcase your skills in the NBA this preseason with the Thunder? I played against most of these guys with the Rockets. So I'm just going to come in and try to contribute in any way I can. I'm a veteran now. I'm 25 years old. I've been in the league three years, so I know the ins and outs of the business. So I'm looking forward to helping out some of the young guys like Russell Westbrook. He's a very talented player, and I'm looking forward to pulling him under my wing and kind of guiding him through this. Is it weird for you to refer to yourself as an NBA veteran now? It's crazy. Time flies when you have fun. It seems like yesterday I just graduated from Oklahoma State, but it's been four years now. You just see yourself maturing as a man and as a player on and off the court. The veterans on the teams that I've been on have showed me that, and now it's kind of my turn to show the young fellas how to do it, too. What do you expect out of this training camp? Nothing but great things. Hard work. Listening to everything the coaches have to say. Try to be the best teammate I can be and contribute on and off the court in any way I can and hopefully make a home here.
Quotable"We don't think that he's going to walk in here next year and be shutting people down. But we feel like he's got the tools and the mentality to be a good defender as he learns the game and learns the pro game.”