Russell Westbrook storms down the lane to slam home a fast-break opportunity. A few possessions later, he leaps high to grab an offensive rebound. In the same game, his warp-speed approach leads to five turnovers and he misses several 15-foot shots.
Westbrook’s first two months in the NBA have been filled with scintillating plays and typical rookie mistakes. His athleticism is off the charts.
At times, Westbrook looks like a budding star that simply needs experience. Other times, poor decisions and poor ball-handling raise doubts whether he will evolve into an upper-tier NBA point guard.
Westbrook will play his 30th game tonight when the Thunder visits the Pistons. How does the UCLA product stack up with some of the league’s top point guards 30 games into their careers? The results are mixed.
In categories like scoring (13.3), rebounding (4.0) and steals (1.59), Westbrook’s stats far surpass players like Steve Nash, T.J. Ford, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups and others two months into their careers.
In other categories like field goal percentage (38.4) and turnovers (2.9), Westbrook lags behind most of the dozen players on The Oklahoman
’s list of point guards.
"Whether he’s a true point guard, I don’t know,” said one scout. "Maybe he’s a combo guard. But if I were them I’d say, ‘He’s my guy at the point’ and go from there. I like what I’ve seen. He’s so athletic. He can learn a lot of what he’s lacking.”
Another NBA scout isn’t as optimistic.
"I haven’t been impressed,” the scout said. "I don’t think he’s a starting point guard. Never did like him at point. His ball handling is an issue. He makes a lot of poor decisions. Maybe he’ll convince me otherwise in a couple of years. But from what I’ve seen, he’s got a long ways to go as a point guard.”
The Thunder is one of the leading candidates to land the No. 1 or 2 selection in the June NBA Draft. Westbrook’s development the next four months will be one of the key factors in how general manager Sam Presti approaches the draft.
One scout said if Blake Griffin isn’t available when the Thunder picks, he would "seriously consider” selecting teen-age point guard phenom Ricky Rubio of Spain and move Westbrook to shooting guard or make him the sixth man off the bench.
"I like his athleticism. And he’s a good kid,” the scout said of Westbrook. "I just don’t see where he fits. Maybe he will improve. Right now I just don’t see it. I question whether he will ever be a dependable point guard. That’s the guy running your offense, the one position you can least afford mistakes.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks adamantly disagrees.
"He’s already a much better point guard than I ever was, even in my best days,” Brooks said. "At UCLA, they felt they had two point guards. He thinks like a point guard. Russell has improved and will continue to improve, because he’ll work at it. It’s a skill he’s still learning.”
Baron Davis, Billups and Nash weren’t instant impact rookies.