Earlier this season I wrote how the Thunder would be better off if they had Rajon Rondo instead of Russell Westbrook and how the trade made sense for both teams. Last night, the two teams played for the first time and Westbrook got the better of Rondo (26 points and three 3-pointers for Westbrook) and stole the show in the game entirely.
Westbrook is a freak athlete and can do amazing things on the basketball court that no other point guard can (except Derrick Rose). But he still has the same issues and concerns he had last year during the playoffs and earlier this season when he got off to such a terrible start.
He basically won the Thunder the game last night and shut the door on the old-knees Celtics with two dagger three-pointers in the final minutes. But those were bad shots and almost every possession for the Thunder late in the game were all terrible because they couldn’t initiate any offense.
This is my main reasoning why Rondo would be better. How far can the Thunder really go when you know that in a close game they are going to have to solely rely on isolation plays and overpowering their opponents with talent and athleticism to win games? There are too many good teams with good athletes in the NBA today to rely on that.
This season, they could still make it to the NBA Finals like this, maybe. In the West, they can play this way and have a good chance to beat Dallas, Denver, San Antonio and maybe the Lakers. Those teams are all older and have absolutely no one to guard Kevin Durant.
The teams I’m worried about are the Blazers and if the Thunder make it to the Finals, their most likely opponent once there, the Miami Heat.
Before jumping ahead, the Blazers already showed this season how they are a bad matchup for the Thunder. They play great defense. They’re long and wiry strong and bang you up when you come into the paint. They’re deep and big inside and now have a go-to scorer in the clutch with Jamal Crawford.
If the Thunder are pitted against the Blazers in a playoff series, I don’t know if they can win playing how they are now.
The problem is that Durant sometimes against teams like Portland or Miami needs help to get scoring opportunities. When teams can play physical with Durant, they can almost take him entirely out of the Thunder offense forcing Westbrook to think it’s time for him to take over.
With the current makeup of this team, Westbrook is right in thinking that way. Durant is part of this problem too because he’s just not the best at being patient and setting up his man before coming off down screens (learn from James Harden!). Westbrook isn’t the true point guard who can rally his team to get into their offense early enough down the court and ensure they execute.
Instead, it ends up being Westbrook walking up the court, he sees Durant isn’t going to be wide open so he then goes one-on-one and far too often hoists up a long jumper. They went in last night and he was the hero. This can somehow work from time to time and against a team like the Celtics but is it something that the Thunder should be satisfied with this season as a way to win a championship? I don’t think so.
Despite my anti-Westbrook sentiment, I am willing to see it play out this season. There’s still a long way to go before the playoffs and to think that there is no way the Thunder fix this problem isn’t right either.
But the Thunder have a decision to make soon (Jan. 25) regarding Westbrook’s extension. They can either do what the Celtics did to Rondo (5-years, $55 million) or anoint him a near-equal to Durant with a max-extension (5-years, $85 million).
With Derrick Rose signing a 5-year, $94 million extension, I think the Thunder do the same for Westbrook. They aren’t going to give up on him or insult him with much less. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if five years from now, we’re talking about how Durant still hasn’t won a title.