LAS VEGAS — Russell Westbrook hurried out of the Cox Pavilion after the Thunder’s 86-57 loss to Memphis on Sunday night. Still dressed in full uniform with his knees tightly wrapped with ice, he shook hands with coaches, hugged a few teammates and waived goodbye to others. A flight waited at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport to jet him back to Los Angeles, where summer school obligations still loom. Westbrook, however, had just concluded another chapter in his maturation; a summer-long stretch that so far has seen him conquer the Orlando Pro Summer League and continue to display his leadership skills in Sunday’s opening game in the NBA Summer League. Next up is a return to Sin City on July 23 for more basketball — a mini-camp date as part of USA Basketball Men’s National Team. Consider this the summer of Westbrook. When it’s all said and done, the 20-year-old point guard could return as the most improved Thunder player when the roster reconvenes in Oklahoma City in the fall. The writing is on the wall. Westbrook is largely more patient. He’s no longer forcing the issue as often as he did as a bright-eyed rookie last season. He’s now looking for options out of ball screens that don’t just end in a shot attempt by No. 0, or worse, a turnover. But his offensive ability and aggressiveness still is there. Westbrook knifes his way into the lane and finishes with a refined pull-up jumper at the free-throw line on one possession and throws down a dunk in traffic on the next. "He’s improving,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "Just talking to Russell, he even says it. The game is slower for him. And that’s good. Russell is a dynamic athlete, but I like the fact that he is thinking the game and he’s improving his cerebral part of the game. As a point guard, you have to be able to think. You can’t just go out there and play.” Westbrook finished tied with Memphis rookie guard Sam Young for a game-high 14 points. He made six of nine shots and had three assists in 24 minutes of a rather sloppily played game by the Thunder. And while some might point to Westbrook’s four turnovers Sunday as a stat that continues to suggest he’s erratic, Thunder players and coaches see Westbrook maturing into the leader the team covets on and off the court. "Four or five days before summer league started, he was out there leading the team in drills,” Brooks said. "He’s really doing a fine job of developing his leadership skills.” Said Shaun Livingston: "I think his awareness for the point guard position is getting a lot better. I think he’s making plays and trying to make people better. He’s still got things to learn. But it’s a tough position, the toughest in the league to play. But I think he’s making some bounds from what I saw his rookie year to now.” Imagine the possibilities come November.
On Page 19See Scoreboard for a complete NBA Summer League schedule and a box score from Sunday’s Thunder game.