Thunder Roundtable: Is Russell Westbrook OKC's most important player?

From Staff Reports Published: June 10, 2014

Slater — If we’re basing it off the last couple months of basketball, true. No point guard was near as dominant as Westbrook in the playoffs. And he slayed Chris Paul, his biggest competition, in the second round. When on, Westbrook proved there’s only a small handful of players — maybe just two — as impactful on both ends. But can he stay healthy? Can he bring it consistently? Can he maintain such a dynamic level over 82-plus games? Next year will be key in his development and ascension.

Tramel — False. I'd still take Chris Paul. But again, it's not a stupid question. It's very close, and who knows? Maybe by next season, Westbrook passes him. The criticism of Westbrook's floor game is ridiculous. The pressure he puts on opposing defenses is mighty. And Westbrook's willingness to pass always has been understated. He doesn't always make great decisions, but he always plays with a ferocity that redefines the position.

3. What area of his game must improve most?

Mayberry — I’d be shocked if the consensus here isn't defense. Nationally, I'm sure the answer would swing heavily to either shot selection or passing. But for those of us who watch the Thunder every night, it's clear how much better this team is when Westbrook shows no mercy and dominates defensively like he loves to do offensively. Play both ends every night and a problem matchup turns impossible.

Slater — For the sake of diversity, I’ll stray away from defense. His steady on- and off-ball tenacity is key to his and the Thunder’s success. But so is his shot selection on the other end. To me, it doesn’t matter how many shots he takes, just that the majority are smart ones. For most of the playoffs, he was great in that area. And that’s why he flourished. But in some of the Thunder’s losses — particularly in the first five games against Memphis, when he went 7-of-39 from three — Westbrook’s adoration for the off-balance, wild, contested jumpers were poisonous to the Thunder cause. If he avoids those games on a consistent basis, he’s a top-five NBA player.

Tramel — Defense. When Westbrook gets focused on defense, he's excellent. If Westbrook reaches a consistent defensive focus, he'll be a first-team all-NBA player. He's got the talent and ability to be the kind of force on defense that he is on offense. A total distorter of the opposing squad. And we saw from Westbrook in the playoffs a better commitment to defense, especially in the final four games against the Spurs.

ADDITIONAL LINKS

-Mainbar: Russell Westbrook's postseason raises future expectations

-Russell Westbrook's season report card


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