The latest and most effective in-game strategy employed by Thunder coach Scott Brooks has served as a reminder of something everyone seems to have lost sight of.
The biggest question on Russell Westbrook isn’t whether he’s a point guard, it’s whether he’s still on track to becoming the stalwart defender the organization thought it drafted in 2008.
Remember how the Thunder touted Westbrook’s defensive skills after selecting him fourth overall?
"He’s got a real focus on the defensive end, and that’s not an easy thing to find,” said general manager Sam Presti. "He has that mentality, and he enjoys digging in and doing the little things that really contribute to winning.”
Somehow, the focus has shifted, first by the fans and now it seems by Brooks.
Brooks recently has deployed shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha on opposing team’s point guards. He put his unquestioned star defender on Deron Williams in the second half last Tuesday at Utah and watched it result in a 104-94 win. The coach did it against Washington to stymie Wizards lead guard Gilbert Arenas in a 127-108 win. And Brooks did it once more in a 101-98 road win at San Antonio, relying on Sefolosha to put the clamps on Spurs guard Tony Parker late.
Following Sunday night’s 100-91 loss to Houston, Brooks second-guessed himself for not applying the approach after Rockets guard Aaron Brooks’ second-half dominance sparked his short-handed team’s come-from-behind victory. Brooks’ the Rockets’ speedster, had 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the second half. He had two assists, two steals, one rebound and zero turnovers.
But Brooks insists the strategy is not a slight to Westbrook’s abilities.
"I think the strength of our backcourt with those two guys is they can switch off,” Brooks said. "It doesn’t give the offensive player a daily diet of the same guy. I’m using that to throw off the offensive player more than Thabo’s a better ball defender than Russell.