By now I’m sure most of you saw or heard about how impressive rookie point guard Russell Westbrook was in the Orlando Pro Summer League. He raised a lot of eyebrows of scouts, coaches and GMs with his performances and made believers out of many fans and media members who doubted Oklahoma City taking him with the fourth overall pick.
In four games, he averaged 16.5 points, 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.5 turnovers, 3.0 fouls and 0.2 blocked shots in 26 minutes per game (out of a possible 40). He shot 50 percent from the field, 36.3 percent from behind the 3-point line and 58.3 percent from the foul line. The most telling stat to me is his fouls. He plays great defense without fouling all that much. That might change when the season starts, because refs are known to call rookies for fouls that wouldn’t be called on veterans or star players.
But one writer said Westbrook was the best player in Orlando last week. The same writer also gave Westbrook some pub in this piece, quoting one scout as saying, ‘He’s flat out the best player here not named Kevin Durant.”
That means better than teammate Jeff Green (who led OKC with a 22.8-point average), better than No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose (who played the first few games injured before shutting it down) and better than No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley. Coach P.J. Carlesimo is quoted in the second piece as saying, “It’s not a question of if he’s going to be great, but when?” You can find in this very space where Green told me Westbrook could be a future All-Star.
I caught up with Russell at the end of his first pro experience and asked him about his performance in Orlando, his unheralded offensive game, his expectations for next season and whether his draft-night doubters added to his motivation.
DM: How would you rate your summer league experience?
RW: I started off well. I wasn’t real happy because we lost so many games, but I felt real comfortable out there.
DM: How much did you learn out there?
RW: I learned a lot. All the coaches pulled me to the side and told me little things here and there. It’s all a learning process for me, and I’m willing to listen?
DM: What did you take away from playing with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green for the first time?
RW: They’re two great guys, off the court and on the court. They’re two tremendous players. It showed last year. It was a good experience, and we have a good chemistry together.
DM: Were you all able to build that chemistry by spending a week together in Orlando?
RW: Yes. We started to learn how each other plays, and we’re going to learn even more when practice starts and throughout the season.
DM: When do you plan on arriving in Oklahoma City?
RW: Probably August to check it out and try to find a spot to stay and just check out the city.
DM: What do you know about the city?
RW: I don’t know too much. I just know it’s a lot cheaper than L.A. That’s all I know.
DM: Have you ever been to Oklahoma City?
RW: No. I’ve never been out there.
DM: How are you going to go about looking for a house?
RW: I don’t know. I’m probably going to try to find one close to the practice facility. Wherever the practice facility is built is where I’m going to try to find a home or wherever I stay at. I’m just going to take it step by step and try to find the best spot.
DM: People always talk about your offensive game, but you showed a lot of offensive skills in Orlando. Can you talk about your offensive game?
RW: It’s just me getting up and down the floor. Whenever I see an opportunity, it’s just me attacking and being under control. We’ve worked on that and been doing a good job on that.
DM: What has coach P.J. Carlesimo told you about his expectations for you next season?
RW: Don’t put pressure on myself. Just come out and play my game. He doesn’t want me to put pressure on myself. He’s just telling me to play my game and do what I do.
DM: Do you expect to start next season?
RW: I don’t know. I don’t expect to start. I’m just going to come in and try to work for as many minutes as possible and do whatever the team needs. But I’m just going to come in and try to work for my minutes.
DM: When you were taken fourth overall a lot of people questioned you going that high. Did that motivate you any more coming in?
RW: Always. It was motivation for me when I got to UCLA and some people didn’t think I should be there. Now, it’s the same thing all over again. But I’m going to continue to work regardless of what everybody else is saying. I’m just going to continue to work on my game and let my game speak for itself.
DM: What position do you feel most comfortable at?
RW: Point guard. I’ve been playing point since I’ve been little. I only stopped playing point for like a year, and I was playing point throughout the year at UCLA. So I’ve been playing point all my life.
DM: What do you think about Jeff Green saying you have the potential to be a future All-Star?
RW: It’s great. Jeff’s a good guy, and if I continue to work hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to be a star like that. That’s what I’m trying to do, continue to work with Jeff and Kevin and build something good.
DM: What are your initial impressions of D.J. White?
RW: D.J. White’s a good guy. He’s a good rebounder. He grabs everything. He blocks shots, runs the floor well as a big and he’s a good defender and great person as well.
DM: What do you want to say to the fans who you’re about to come and play in front of out here?
RW: Just that I’m looking forward to meeting you guys and I’m happy you’re having us. And I’m just looking forward to the season.
DM: What are your expectations for next season?
RW: I’m trying to win as many games as possible. I’m just trying to come in and win games. That’s basically what we’re trying to do as a team and as an organization, just come in and be a winning program.