Oklahoma City Thunder: No trade for backup point guard?
Don’t expect the Thunder to make a trade by 3 p.m. Thursday, the NBA trade deadline. The Thunder does not appear to be in the market for a backup point guard.
Russell Westbrook played 371/2 minutes Tuesday night in the Thunder’s 104-103 loss to Houston. The game continued a recent trend of playing poorly, even in victory. The Rockets entered with a 22-20 record but without their starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin.
Should have been a chance to knock out the Rockets early and let Westbrook put up his feet. But no.
The Thunder’s early sluggishness and late meltdown was mostly unrelated to the fatigue factor in this condensed NBA season. But other games will be.
Some want the Thunder to find a more efficient point guard for the B team, with rookie point guard Reggie Jackson struggling much of the season.
Mister October is no Eric Maynor, the floor general whose early-season knee injury promoted Jackson to the rotation.
Case in point Tuesday night: early fourth quarter, Houston up 81-79, Jackson bounced a bad pass out of bounds, then took a quick shot on OKC’s next possession. Maynor was capable of a screwup; never did he torpedo two possessions in a 20-second span.
But the tribulations and trials of a rookie point guard are not the biggest Thunder concern. I worry about Westbrook’s minutes.
Westbrook averages 35.3 minutes a game; that’s 0.6 minutes more than last season. But it’s not just his minutes; it’s the way he spends those minutes.
The guy plays fanatically. Question his decision-making if you must – and Westbrook’s technical foul with 48 seconds left, in a three-point game, was inexcusable — but don’t question his zeal.
The guy plays with absolute competitiveness, which feeds his incredible endurance. But can Westbrook keep this up, not just through this condensed season, but what figures to be a long playoff run? Can he keep it up without going bonkers, which he did Tuesday night?
“We’re human,” Thunder veteran Royal Ivey said. “Guys get tired some games. But Russell’s a different case. I think he’s superhuman.”
The playoffs offer a small respite. Less travel; occasionally two days off. On the other hand, Westbrook’s minutes will go up in the playoffs.
Starters play more. Jackson’s minutes will go down. Westbrook averaged 37.5 minutes a game in the playoffs last season, and that’s with Maynor to provide solid relief.
But you can expect James Harden to take over the point guard duties at times with the second unit – heck, with the first unit, too, especially after the way he diced up the Rockets in the fourth quarter Tuesday night.
So if Westbrook plays 38 minutes in the playoffs, and for the 10 minutes he’s on the bench Harden runs the show half the time, that’s five minutes of living with Reggie Jackson. The Thunder probably can do that.
So for me, it all comes down to wear and tear on Westbrook, both physically and mentally.
On this Wednesday morning, Westbrook ranks 14th in the league in minutes played. Among guards, Westbrook ranks fifth, behind Kobe Bryant, John Wall, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans. Among point guards, Westbrook ranks fourth, and Wall and Evans aren’t going to the playoffs; we’ll see on Jennings.
But the Thunder monitors everyone’s minutes. Including opponents. A Thunder in-house analyst told me, without looking, that Westbrook is playing fewer minutes per game than Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose.
And he was right. Westbrook is averaging 35.3 minutes a game. Rose is averaging 35.6, Williams 36.4, Paul 36.5 and Rondo 36.8.
So among elite point guards on elite teams, only San Antonio’s Tony Parker plays fewer minutes than does Westbrook. Of course, Westbrook doesn’t miss games; he’s played 42. Williams has played 40 of New Jersey’s 43 games (not saying the Netropolitans are an elite team, but Williams is such a top-shelf point guard, he should be included), Rose 34 of Chicago’s 44 games, CP3 35 of the Clippers’ 40 games and Rondo 31 of Boston’s 41 games.
So Westbrook is putting wear and tear on his tires.
“He goes so hard; he plays every possession like it’s his last,” Ivey said. “But he’s 23 years old. Still a young guy in the league.”
There will come a time when Westbrook will have to curtail his minutes and his method of play. But not by much. The Spurs zealously watch minutes. Parker played 34.4 minutes a game as a 21-year-old, third-year point guard in 2003-04. He was down to 30.9 minutes a game in 2009-10. But this season, as injuries mount, even Parker is having to play more, 34.3 minutes a game. That’s one minute more per game than Westbrook.
The Spurs just lost backup point guard T.J. Ford, who announced his retirement after yet another injury. The Spurs will slide Gary Neal over for some duty, and expect Manu Ginobili to do like Harden and assume the point at times.
So minutes and fatigue are issuers for every team. But so is, for the Thunder, the future, and financial stability, and the belief that for now, Westbrook is capable of handling this load.
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