PORTLAND, Ore. — There is reason to believe the Thunder’s front office isn’t certain that Russell Westbrook can be the team’s point guard of the future. First, there was the attempted trade for Charlotte’s Raymond Felton back in January. Then there was the reported interest in New York’s Nate Robinson at the mid-February trading deadline. And finally, there was last month’s signing of Shaun Livingston. Not exactly the finest endorsement of the No. 4 overall pick. But no matter which direction the front office is leaning on Westbrook, the rookie has shown over the past three games that he’s starting to get it. Only now, after 70-plus games, does Westbrook fully understand what it takes to run an NBA team. Westbrook’s execution still is erratic. But more than ever, he’s slowing down. He’s setting up his teammates first and looking for his shot second. He’s making the simple play rather than the shaky one. Westbrook is averaging a season-high seven assists this month, and his assist-to-turnover ratio stands at 1.91, not great but trailing only January’s 2.03 as his highest ratio in any full month. The first quarters of the past three games are even more indicative of Westbrook’s newfound grasp of the position. Against Milwaukee, he finished the first period with three shot attempts and four assists. Against Charlotte, he had one shot attempt and five assists. And last Friday against Denver, Westbrook attempted two shots while tallying five assists and zero turnovers. "It’s a learning process,” Westbrook said. "I’ve been learning all year long, and I’m just trying to continue to learn leading into next year.” Next year is why these final few outings can’t be written off. What Westbrook accomplishes in this final month will serve as the springboard to what strides he makes in the offseason and returns with next fall. The Thunder can hide behind Livingston’s recovery from a knee injury as reason he won’t challenge Westbrook’s status anytime soon. But it’s clear Livingston is the better playmaker. And while the argument can be made that, like Livingston, Felton and Robinson could have both played off the ball, their additions would have no doubt taken the ball out of Westbrook’s hands and perhaps pushed him to shooting guard altogether. That’s why this final stretch is vital for Westbrook. "It’s going to help him out tremendously,” said Kevin Durant. "I remember last year I was playing well toward the end of the year and it gave me a lot of confidence and showed me what I need to do and what I needed to work on over the summer. "He’s already confident, and he has that swagger. But if he continues to play like this it’s going to elevate him to one of the top point guards in the league.”
ON THE JOB TRAINING
A look at rookie point guard Russell Westbrook’s month-by-month production.
Thunder at Blazers
→Time: 9 tonight →Where: Rose Garden, Portland, Ore. →Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37) →Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM, Sirius 219, XM 233 →Live blog: http://www.thundermadness.com Three things to know
→Oklahoma City is 0-3 when starting the combination of Russell Westbrook, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. →The Thunder is 7-32 on the road this season and lost the first game at Portland, 106-92. →The Blazers are 32-7 at home and have won four straight overall. Probable starters