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Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook playing the best basketball of his career

The point guard has shown a lot of growth, and his numbers from the beginning of February reflect that
by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 9, 2013
/articleid/3764529/1/pictures/1977882">Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) waits for the ball to be inbounded during the NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City,  Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013.Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) waits for the ball to be inbounded during the NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013.Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Replacing those shots from beyond the arc have been blazing bursts to the rim, where Westbrook finally has started to finish more consistently — his botched fast break layup against the Knicks notwithstanding. According to hoopdata.com, Westbrook is shooting a career-high 62.1 percent at the rim this season. A sample of the past 16 games likely would shatter even that.

“He's not forcing plays,” Collison said. “He's making the correct reads on when to attack, draw guys and get it to someone else, and also when to attack and look for shots for himself.”

When Westbrook hasn't finished at the rim, he's gotten fouled and earned trips to the free throw line. His foul shooting is up to 7.9 per game in the last 16 games, which is 1.1 per game more than the first 46 contests and would be a career best if protracted over the course of the season.

Where Westbrook has made his biggest impact lately, however, has been the opening period.

He's scored at least 10 points in seven of the past nine games, averaging 11.9 points in the last nine. Before the Charlotte game, a contest that he played on that gimpy ankle, Westbrook was averaging 13.2 first-quarter points in the previous eight games.

It's first-quarter dominance that both applies immediate pressure to opposing defenses and allows Westbrook to shine before Kevin Durant takes the reins down the stretch.

“It's usually an advantage with him in the post against a lot of guys he plays so sometimes we run some stuff to get him going that way,” Collison said. “But it's not necessarily that we're setting out to run a lot of plays for him. I think he's just aggressive early and he's talented so he's able to score.”

Perhaps we're witnessing Westbrook warming up.

If so, with only 20 games remaining before the start of the playoffs the Westbrook we're watching now could be the version we see when it matters most.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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