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Early doubts about Tony Parker are similar to those of Russell Westbrook

The Spurs' Parker developed one of the top point guards in the NBA — and the Thunder's Westbrook is following in those footsteps.
by Jenni Carlson Published: May 23, 2012

“We're not in this position without Russell's play,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We have a good team, but Russell makes us very good with what he does.”

Sure, Skip Bayless still spends about half his day saying that Westbrook isn't a point guard and that the Thunder can't win a championship with him playing there. But it's pretty obvious that the ESPN analyst got a blind spot when it comes to Westbrook.

The rest of the free world has seen what Bayless can't.

Westbrook has taken some big-time steps forward, especially in these playoffs.

That might be most evident in how he's kept mistakes from snowballing. A year ago in the playoffs, one blunder could quickly turn into four or five or more. Remember the 30-for-30 game at Denver? Remember the fourth-quarter benching in Dallas?

They seem long ago and far away, don't they?

The fiery, feisty Westbrook has kept his emotions from escalating and his mistakes from multiplying.

“I guess it's just something that I've learned,” he said. “It's just carrying over.”

But he knows that the challenge that Parker presents, especially when the Spurs point guard has the ball in his hands, will be greater than any Westbrook has faced in these playoffs. No offense to Kidd, Terry or Sessions, but right now, none of those guards are in the same league as Parker.

The physical challenge for Westbrook is obvious — defending the pick-and-roll and cutting off driving lanes are primary — but more than anything, playing against Parker will be a mental test of the highest degree.

“He does a lot of great things for his team,” Westbrook said. “He gets in the paint. He creates havoc for the defense. He's in attack mode, and that definitely helps him out.”

Parker is one of the best point guards in the league.

So, if Westbrook gets the better of this matchup and the Thunder gets the better of this series, isn't it time that the doubts about his ability to play the position and be a scoring point guard and coexist with Durant die?

No question about it.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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