Russell Westbrook spent his summer vacation in a small high school gym in Santa Monica, Calif., often working out three times a day between classes at UCLA. Individual drills and weight-lifting in the morning. Pickup ball in the afternoon. Another light session at night. Mixed in were private workouts with the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year. But it was those pickup games that might be what ultimately turns the Thunder's second-year point guard into a legitimate floor leader. “I didn't play around with that,” Westbrook said. “I tried to make good decisions and make the best pass. I didn't try to force anything, just make the simple play.” At age 20, he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. But Westbrook's decision-making was his biggest impediment. He led the league with 274 turnovers. He averaged 3.3 turnovers and his 1.59 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked last among point guards. Cleveland's Mo Williams was next closest at 1.84. But it was inside St. Monica High that Westbrook sharpened his skills against Chicago's guard Derrick Rose. The two played one-on-one, went through shooting drills and worked on perfecting the pick-and-roll. “We were real competitive,” Westbrook said. “He helped me a lot. And I would say there are things I helped him with as well.” Westbrook's offseason work produced a preseason payoff: In the Thunder's first four exhibition games, he tallied 34 assists and 10 turnovers. Carry that ratio into the season and he's in the Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Deron Williams neighborhood. At times this preseason, he looked like a completely different player. “It's natural right now for him,” said teammate Shaun Livingston. “I think he worked on it so much in the summer that's it's more so like a chain reaction.” Westbrook and Thunder coach Scott Brooks trace Westbrook's ascension to January, the month he improved his averages to 5.5 assists and 2.7 turnovers. The next month he turned in his best stretch of the season with averages of 20.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 3.9 turnovers. But stats, Brooks said, don't tell the full story. Westbrook controlled the game better, played with more patience and got the ball to his teammates in better positions to score. “Russell's a very proud player and I like that in him,” Brooks said. “He brings that on the court every day. That's why I know that he's going to get better.”
For Second-Season Improvement? Ready: Westbrook has looked more confident and comfortable running the team throughout the preseason. His assists were up and his turnovers were down. The second-year point guard spent his entire off-season improving his decision-making and is adamant the hard work has paid off. For as erratic as his rookie season was, Westbrook still gave himself a lot to build on. He averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Hard to see him getting worse in his second season. ... Or not:His final stats backed up everything we saw out of Westbrook last season. He led the league in total turnovers with 274. He shot just 39 percent from the field and 27 percent from the 3-point line. Some players can drastically improve in those areas in their second season. Most cannot. Making things more challenging for Westbrook is he's a point guard who's still learning the position on the fly. That, along with the fact that he's weeks away from turning 21, indicates he's certainly in store for many more mistakes.