Raymond Felton Calls Out Russell Westbrook
I mentioned this in my post-game blog off last night’s game.
It was swept under the rug in the Thunder’s locker room but didn’t go unnoticed by the Blazers.
Russell Westbrook’s defense on Raymond Felton was super aggressive all night, and it worked well early but backfired late. Westbrook, you could say, was over-aggressive, and it actually helped a cool, calm and collected Felton control the rhythm and flow of the game in the second half, as he picked apart the Thunder for open shots for himself and his teammates with relative ease.
After the game, Blazers writer Jason Quick noted of Westbrook that “much of his night was spent trying to beat Felton, not the Blazers.” Quick also got reaction from Felton on the matchup, and Felton had some interesting things to say.
“That’s the type of guy he is, that’s his mindset, that’s how he plays,” Felton said when I remarked about Westbrook’s win-the-battle, but lose-the-war mentality. “He’s always in a one-on-one battle with all the point guards. I’m not really into that. I’m into winning. If you win, everybody gets the praises. We are not wearing ‘Felton’ on the front of our jerseys; it says Blazers. I care about the Blazers winning.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks went out of his way after the game to single out Westbrook to praise his point guard’s efforts.
“I thought Russell had one of his best games,” said Brooks, unsolicited. “He left everything on the court. He made plays for us. He was moving the ball. He was defending.”
That sound bite became another example of Brooks having Westbrook’s back. No matter how Westbrook has performed over his three-plus seasons, it seems Brooks sticks up for him, almost in an attempt to ward off the backlash and criticism Westbrook might encounter before it even comes. Westbrook was indeed solid for a half last night. But you can’t ignore how he let his individual matchup get the best of him. Ultimately, it hurt the Thunder, as Felton figured out how to use Westbrook’s aggressiveness against him. As the game went on, Felton got drives to the rim for layups and dump-offs to LaMarcus Aldridge for dunks and jumpers.
To those of us who have watched Westbrook closely throughout his career, we know this is nothing new. He’s engaged in similar battles with everyone from Chris Paul and Deron Williams to Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry. He makes his matchups personal battles and does everything he possibly can to win them. Which, let’s be honest, is what you’re supposed to do. It’s part of what makes Westbrook who he is. What? Would you prefer the alternative, which is a point guard who doesn’t have enough fire to want to win his matchup? Coaches from the grassroots level on up teach winning your matchup helps the team win the game. So, fundamentally, Westbrook’s mind is in the right place.
But the question is whether Westbrook takes it too far?
If Westbrook is more about padding stats and winning the battle by any means, yes, that approach does nothing but hurt the team. But that doesn’t appear to be Westbrook’s main goal. Although he does appear stat happy at times, he’s clearly shown that he’s willing to sacrifice his numbers when needed to get wins.
Westbrook’s biggest problem appears to be not knowing when to turn it off. He hasn’t realized, it seems, that the fire inside him doesn’t always have to be a raging blaze. That’s when he puts the Thunder in a bad spot. Last year, we called it hero mode. But that was more about offense. Now, Westbrook is mixing in extreme aggressiveness on defense, defined mostly by gambling in the backcourt, as a means to force the issue and make something happen. He’s trying to be spectacular on every play instead of just being solid and trusting the system. It’s a part of what’s led to his surprisingly slow start.
That aggression has negatively impacted Westbrook in four of his first seven matchups. Here’s a look at Westbrook’s first four matchups and their points, assists, turnovers and plus-minus stats. Westbrook’s production in those matchups is in parenthesis.
ORL: Jameer Nelson 18, 6 and 4 and plus-9 (Westbrook 14, 6, and 7 and minus-5)
MIN: Luke Ridnour 2, 4 and 0 and minus-5 (Westbrook 28, 6 and 7 and plus-10)
MEM: Jeremy Pargo 15, 7 and 1 and plus-1 (Westbrook 4, 6 and 4 and plus-1)
DAL: Jason Kidd 3, 3 and 3 and minus-2 (Westbrook 16, 4 and 7 and minus-5)
PHX: Steve Nash 8, 6 and 3 and minus-10 (Westbrook, 18, 4 and 2 and plus-7)
DAL: Kidd 0, 9 and 3 and plus-2 (Westbrook 18, 3 and 2 and minus-4)
POR: Felton 12, 7 and 1 and plus-10 (Westbrook 22, 8 and 3 and minus-9)
The bold face teams are contests in which Westbrook was outplayed. The italicized teams, Minnesota and Phoenix, are the two games in which Westbrook clearly won the battle of his position. The lone remaining game, the first meeting with Dallas, you can consider a draw. Westbrook had a fantastic final 3 1/2 minutes but was largely lousy for his other 27.
Even in stretches against Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, Westbrook allowed his emotions to take over. He played like he wanted to embarrass Rubio. Like he had no respect for the rookie. And again, we saw that mentality allow the Spaniard with the steady hand to have some success.
The evidence suggests Felton clearly has a case. Westbrook, for the most part, makes his matchups one-on-one battles.
But that’s only a bad thing when Westbrook refuses to bring down that raging fire.
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