Whatever magical equation you use to rate an NBA player's worth, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to point guard Russell Westbrook. Yet as the spotlight zooms in a little tighter each day on the Oklahoma City Thunder, national media continue to portray that the bad far outweighs the good.
The latest case-in-point came Thursday night when Westbrook never left the bench in the fourth quarter of Game 2 at Dallas. In the process, a 106-100 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals somehow got lost, almost ignored.
Who won the game inexplicably became the second-most important story. Westbrook not playing somehow mattered more.
"The series is tied 1-1, you come home and you've got to deal with Russell Westbrook getting benched in the fourth quarter," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said, shaking his head.
Skewed reporting frequently pops up every postseason. In this case, some who barely witnessed OKC during the regular season pontificate as though they've been camped inside the Thunder locker room all season long.
Suddenly, Westbrook and Kevin Durant don't get along. There's a rift inside the locker room because of a selfish Westbrook, and it's getting wider each day.
Westbrook has selfish moments, as does almost every athlete, but that doesn't necessarily make him a selfish person. One easy way to tell is by the way Westbrook handles interviews.
Ask Westbrook about himself, and he'll give stock answers that have been repeated incessantly since training camp. Ask Westbrook about a teammate, and his replies are thoughtful and insightful. This is not a trait of a selfish person.
All Westbrook wants is to win, but there are times winning doesn't look so pretty – such as Thursday night, when a frowning Westbrook was taken out for good late in the third quarter and strung together some choice words that would make Kobe Bryant blush.
There also have been times when some of the prettiest moves you've ever seen have come compliments of the unfathomably athletic Westbrook.
When your starting point guard leads the NBA in turnovers, missed layups and blown dunks, tough decisions must be made and proper discretion is required. This is where Thunder coach Scott Brooks excelled on Thursday night by choosing to sit Westbrook.
With 3:15 remaining, the Thunder leading by 10 and reserve point guard Eric Maynor comfortably running the show, why wouldn't Brooks choose to be safe rather than potentially sorry? The Thunder didn't need a Westbrook eruption. It needed the serenity and stability of Maynor.
There is a risk/reward to Westbrook that is unrivaled in the league.
Roughly 20 percent of the time, Brooks must be thinking, “Russ, why on earth did you just do that?”
The other 80 percent of the time, Brooks must be wondering, “Russ, how on earth did you just do that?”
There's a reason why Western Conference coaches voted Westbrook as a reserve for this year's All-Star Game ahead of players such as Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd and Monta Ellis.
There's a reason why Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski played Westbrook as often as he did en route to winning the gold medal at the FIBA Championship.
There's a reason why media voted Westbrook as a second-team All-NBA pick. Based on what's been written and said lately, you'd think Westbrook didn't warrant a single vote.
How can a player so good be portrayed as a player so bad?
This much is certain: Westbrook's teammates are sick of it. One of them stands 6-foot-10, weighs 280 and wears an omnipresent scowl.
“I am getting tired of the criticism that he's got to take day in and day out,” Perkins said of Westbrook. “We won the game. Eric played his behind off, and yet it (reporting) still came down to coach benching Russ in the fourth quarter.”
Obtained in a trade with Boston on Feb. 24, Perkins acknowledged there was criticism of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "There definitely was," Perkins said, "but it wasn't this bad. I mean, how can you keep your head up dealing with stuff like that? It's just unreal."
Veteran forward Nick Collison tries to be a voice of reason for Westbrook.
“Sometimes you have to realize that part of the playoffs is entertainment,” Collison explained. “There's a lot of news stories that need to be made and story lines that need to be talked about, so people will run with those and maybe do it overboard to the point where it's almost inaccurate. For us, we really just have to trust what we see every day. If we just look at that, we realize that everything is fine.”
Asked if he thought the criticism was beginning to wear on Westbrook, Collison without hesitation said: “No, he's playing great. He played great (Thursday). You're so close to getting to the Finals, you just worry about winning the game and not let anything bother you.”
The man who kept Westbrook off the court in Game 2 said he doesn't understand what is being written and said.
“Like we always tell him, it doesn't matter what anybody else says about him,” Maynor said of Westbrook. “We know what type of person he is, what kind of player he is. He's a great teammate and a great person.
“People are trying anything they can to break this team up. We've got something good going here, and I think as long as Russell knows that we've got his back, on and off the court, I think we'll be all right.”
The more he spoke about the criticism of Westbrook, the more pronounced the scowl of Perkins' face became.
“When is it going to stop?” Perkins said. “I feel sorry for him, but one thing about it is we're definitely going to be very supportive of him. It's not the time to turn your back. It's time to try to lift him up.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.