While I was watching the Oklahoma City Thunder battle the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of their first-round series, there were several things that come to mind and really jumped out at me.
First, after watching Russell Westbrook over the past few weeks, and the time he came to the Garden against the Knicks and calmly just missed a triple-double by a single rebound (31 pts, 10 assists, nine rebounds), I think that he’s established himself in Derrick Rose’s class in terms of guards on the cusp of superstardom.
Rose, the first overall pick from the 2008 class, really burst onto the scene last playoffs against the Celtics and worked hard on his jump shot this offseason. That work translated more in his mid-range game, not from behind the arc, where he managed just 26 percent (up from 22 percent last year), but Rose is clearly morphing into a very gifted scoring guard, a la Dwyane Wade.
Westbrook, on the other hand, has more tools in my opinion. He’s as gifted defensively as any guard in the league. He can distribute the basketball and score when needed. Just look at his NBA.com efficiency numbers, which can be calculated here.
During the first four games of the playoffs he’s managing a ridiculous +26.25 efficiency total compared to Rose’s +22.67. Now, I still think that Rose has more on his resume and has the slight edge, but Westbrook is gaining fast and a first-round upset over the Lake Show would inch him even closer.
Can the Thunder pull off an upset over a Lakers team that now needs to rely on an injured Kobe more than ever before? I still think the Lakers manage to pull through, but a long first-round series could hamper a title defense. And not just because it’s drawn out and players garner more minutes; to me, it’s more because a longer series exposes a team’s weakness. Ron Artest, in my opinion is the best two-way forward since Scottie Pippen, and he is having a hard time getting the right shots in the Lakers’ offense. He’s deferring right now and focusing on defense, not playing his typically aggressive offensive game. I don’t know if that’s by design from Phil Jackson, but if it is it’s terrible game-planning. The Lakers now more than ever need Artest to step up.
Sources have told me that Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh desperately tried to move up to get Westbrook two years ago and dangled David Lee in a deal to Memphis. Westbrook never fell to No. 5. So Walsh stayed put and selected Danilo Gallinari, who just completed a very impressive second season. I just have to wonder where the Knicks would be with Westbrook, a kid out of UCLA whom I rated over O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon and behind Rose at the guard position. I think he would have been special enough to have led them to the playoffs this year.
But enough hypotheticals. More.