NBA / Nov 4, 2009 / 3:24 pm

Ready for launch? Russell Westbrook’s slow start

Russell Westbrook

Eight days into the NBA season is always a good time for overreaction. It’s not that it’s too early to make observations — e.g., I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to predict a monster year for Carmelo Anthony right now — but it is too early to put the tombstone on some players who aren’t starting out so hot.

Players like Russell Westbrook. Over the summer, I was the main one leading the charge in the Dime office over Westbrook, insisting he’d blow up this year like Deron Williams blew up in his second pro season. All the warning signs were there: After an underrated rookie year (his 15.3 ppg and 5.3 apg were right there with R.O.Y. Derrick Rose), Westbrook worked out like a decathlete in the offseason, tore up the Orlando Summer League (22 ppg, 7.8 apg, 2.5 spg), and got positive reviews from his time at the Team USA mini-camp in July.

Four games into the new season, though, it’s looking like this may not be the year Westbrook becomes a star. Just like a lot of analysts were putting expectations on the Thunder that might have been too high, I may have given OKC’s point guard a little too much, too soon.

Westbrook’s rebounding, assist and field-goal shooting numbers are up from last year through this first week, his scoring is only slightly down, but it goes beyond the stats. In OKC’s last two games — a loss to Portland that was close well into the fourth quarter, and last night’s overtime loss to the Lakers, both at home — Westbrook has hurt more than helped in crunch time. He’s also been a turnover machine. He gave it up six times to L.A., and had nine turnovers against the Blazers; not to mention a five-turnover effort in a win at Detroit.

Last night, Thunder coach Scott Brooks had to defend his team against accusations they were rattled against the defending champs, which could have just applied to Westbrook alone. Derek Fisher, who showed in last year’s playoffs that his defense is nowhere near where it once was, gave Westbrook as much trouble as Ron Artest was giving Kevin Durant down the stretch.

“Westbrook was mostly awful for the second straight game: six turnovers to go with seven assists and 12 points,” Oklahoman columnist Barry Tramel wrote in today’s paper. “Old pro point guard Derek Fisher did a number on Westbrook. Like his team, Westbrook is a work in progress with a bright future.”

Because he’s not quite a natural, pure point guard, Westbrook sometimes gets caught up trying to do too much as a scorer; think Steve Francis in his heyday. So far this season, those single-minded drives have resulted in more than a few turnovers, charges, and bad shots.

Westbrook has the ability to score, he’s got the talent to make plays as a passer and be a beast on defense, but it turns out his biggest leaps in Year 2 will have to be made in the facets of the game that don’t involve a weight room or a track. Once his decision-making improves and he gains the poise in crunch time that only experience brings, he should be back to his regularly scheduled takeoff.

*Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
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  • Oscarisalakerfan

    Waiting on him too!!!!

  • The Real Tyrone

    Ain’t no dout that dis cat ain’t the shit y’all. Cat b glass eatin forsho, but he ain’t got no ability to be scorin efficiently and ain’t be able to be dishin dopey dimes.

    True Thugs NEVER lie.
    The REAL Tyrone

  • Da_Griff

    Westbrook still doesn’t have a J. Until he gets that old slow points like fisher can just lag off him and defend the drive.

    You bet teams have done their homework on him this year. It’s easy to rip it up in summer league when the guys guarding you are just trying to make the roster. The older pro’s are just watching, learning how to stop you.

    Everyone was shocked he was picked so high last draft because of his lack of a J, and here we are seeing the proof. He might be fitter after his offseason, but he still can’t shoot.

  • Mack Brownee

    durant had a slow start to last season, too…I think westbrook will make better decisions as the season progresses but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up leading the league in turnovers

  • AdvancedMind

    Westbrook is raw talent that will be fine.
    15ppg 5.5rpg 8apg and he plays D…
    wheres the problem? maybe the focus should be more on having a serviceable back up point guard to take some load off of his shoulders… Kevin Ollie? Stop the madness.

  • AK47

    I like the way you guys start with “but it is too early to put the tombstone on some players who aren’t starting out so hot” and the proceed to blast Westbrook…

  • Amar

    Westbrook is a work in progress who will be well worth the wait, he’s very young and still learning the game, but he’s got the athletic gifts to be something special, while yesterday wasn’t a strong game for him, he had some plays where you can tell if he keeps improving he’ll be a very good player. In a couple of years, the thunder and blazers are going to have some epic battles in the west and i wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook is a star in the near future.

  • Frodo T. Baggins

    It’s hard to find a good pass first point guard, thankfully the Bulls have one with Derrick Rose

  • bigcov

    westbrook is too unnatural in the pg position. he could be a 2-guard like dumars in his heyday just defending and causing havoc. well maybe maybe not dumars but I think you get what I”m saying. He’s like a shorter shawn marion, he could be all over the court but running the point is slowing his growth.

    So is Kevin Durant…overrated, but a solid scorer.

  • http://dime fan

    Steve Francis/Russel Westbrook. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Don’t disrespect franchise like that. Westbrook is closer to a young Rondo before he became RONDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. He will never be a true point guard. Lead guard like Chauncey maybe. Kevin Ollie and Shaun Livingston is the real problem. He’s a good guy and all but he’s wasting and stealing a roster spot. It’s over. Man the politics. Did Coach K approve this one too. Send him to the Knicks or something. Kevin Ollie seriously. Might as well sought out Jacque Vaughn or Pepe Sanchez. I like Pepe Sanchez he was the goods.

  • http://dime fan

    Steve Francis/Russel Westbrook. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Don’t disrespect franchise like that. Westbrook is closer to a young Rondo before he became RONDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. He will never be a true point guard. Lead guard like Chauncey maybe. Kevin Ollie and Shaun Livingston is the real problem. He’s a good guy and all but he’s wasting and stealing a roster spot. It’s over. Man the politics. Did Coach K approve this one too. Send him to the Knicks or something. Kevin Ollie seriously. Might as well sought out Jacque Vaughn or Pepe Sanchez. I like Pepe Sanchez he was the goods.

  • Ilovebb

    Russell will be just fine. If his teammates ever learn how to catch the ball when he passes it to them they will win more games. They should have won both games they recently lost but when it’s obvious KD wants the ball during the game but definitely not at the end. The media gives KD way too much credit and they refuse to give R.W. his due. The coach needs to do a better job on getting them to play more often together. Why in the world did R.W. sit on the bench that long. Coach, U hurt em’ this time with that decision.

  • SS

    A lot of the comments here are just absolutely ridiculous. You fuckers have to stop ragging on Westbrook, he’s an immensely talented young Guard with a bright future. Especially you, fan, you’re a fucking idiot. Not only is Westbrook ALREADY better than Franchise ever was, he’s only fucking 21, and he’s having a great season already. Sure, he’s turnover prone, but so are a lot of young guys. He has the talent to be as good as Rondo, and his skillset is almost in line with D-Wade’s. Westbrook will be a star in this league for many years to come, especially once he works on his jumper and shot selection.