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OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook may fill Olympic void left by absence of Dwyane Wade

By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer Published: July 9, 2012
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photo - USA men's basketball national team members Russell Westbrook, left, hangs out with teammate Kobe Bryant after practice at the Mendenhall Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas on Friday, July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean) ORG XMIT: NVLAS209
USA men's basketball national team members Russell Westbrook, left, hangs out with teammate Kobe Bryant after practice at the Mendenhall Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas on Friday, July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean) ORG XMIT: NVLAS209

“D-Wade, he was the leading scorer of that team I think, and Russell can do the same thing,” said Kevin Durant, Westbrook's Thunder teammate. “He can score at will, he's so athletic, extend possessions for us with his offensive rebounding, his defense. So we're looking forward to having him out there.”

Yet Westbrook isn't for everybody, and he plays perhaps the NBA's most scrutinized game. He isn't a pass-first point guard like Steve Nash, infuriating those who think his job should be to create shots for Durant, not himself. He's prone to awful shooting nights, following his Game 4 masterpiece by going 4 of 20 as the Heat wrapped up the title in Game 5.

Perhaps the combination of the Olympic stage and a playing style that suits his skills better will help Westbrook win over his critics.

“Maybe, but you know my job is not to worry about that,” he said. “My job is to come in every day and try to get better.”

Westbrook doesn't understand why his game has so many haters, nor does Mike Krzyzewski. But the coach is focused on the good, and on the opportunity for Westbrook to do for him what Wade did.

“There's that potential that Russell can do that,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Russell's a great player. It baffles me how people can be so critical of him. I think what he does is absolutely sensational. His ball pressure, his offensive rebounding, his athleticism is off the charts.”

Westbrook averaged 9.1 points for the Americans in the 2010 world basketball championship, third on the team, including 13 points in the gold-medal game victory over Turkey. As with that team, he won't be restricted to playing point guard now, with Chris Paul and Deron Williams both on the roster.

Westbrook's game isn't like theirs, but the Americans don't care. They just need it to resemble Wade's.

“I mean, I'm fitting the role of whatever it takes for us to win,” Westbrook said. “My job is to come in, be in attack mode. That's what I do.”


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