Jun 19, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts during the third quarter in game four in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Oklahoma City Thunder 2012-13 Projections: Russell Westbrook

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Russell Westbrook has become one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. People either hate the way he plays or people (especially who live in Oklahoma) absolutely love him.

Westbrook plays point guard for the Thunder but isn’t the prototypical point. He’s arguably the best athlete in the NBA and a position can’t fully encompass what he does on a basketball court.

There were questions always whether he and Kevin Durant would work out as a one-two punch in OKC, if they could coexist enough to win a title. They haven’t done that yet but a successful season last year that ended in a trip to the Finals has pretty much proven they can win with this dynamic.

For all of his criticism, Westbrook plays as hard as any player in the NBA and has improved greatly in each season that he’s been in the league. That continued last season as he was fifth in the league in scoring at 23.6 points per game.

Westbrook did see some setbacks last year in what was an up-and-down year for him. He got off to a slow start and seemed genuinely affected by the contract negotiations he was dealing with. His assists drastically declined last year to just 5.5 per game after being 8.0 and 8.2 the two seasons before.

Last year was the first full season without Jeff Green though. With Green instead of Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder offense was much freer flowing with more space for Westbrook to operate in. The new look Thunder without Green would feature Westbrook taking on more of a volume scorer’s role, one which he was spectacular at sometimes and dreadful other times.

What can we expect to see from Westbrook next year though? Will the assists go back up? Will he become more efficient?

2008-09 32.5 15.2 25.8 .398 .271 .489 27.5 5.2 15.3
2009-10 34.3 17.8 25.7 .418 .221 .491 38.6 5.1 16.1
2010-11 34.7 23.6 31.6 .442 .330 .538 42.7 7.7 21.9
2011-12 35.3 22.9 32.7 .457 .316 .538 29.8 6.3 23.6

We know that Westbrook will once again show signs of improvement as he does every season. It would be dumb not to predict that. We can probably also expect a more comfortable Westbrook as he is now more accepted than ever in OKC and in the NBA in general. He has established himself as one of the top superstars in the league and his confidence will be at an all-time high.

Confidence is a very important thing for Westbrook. When he is second-guessing himself, he is at his worst. When he can just go out and play, he’s at his best. We will see more of Westbrook in his element next year, that’s for sure. Last year felt like a kind of transition period for him at times. He realized he could be such a dominant scorer and had a hard time balancing being a point guard with that.

A more under control Westbrook is a scary thing for the rest of the NBA. The Thunder showed just how good of a team they can be with a relatively unstable Westbrook. By the end of next season, Westbrook will be right there in the discussion for best point guard in the NBA while the Thunder will again be competing for an NBA title.

The assists should go back up some for Westbrook, maybe to 6.5 per game or so, maybe even more. Becoming more of a playmaker will make it hard for Westbrook to keep scoring 24 points per game but if he improves his field goal percentage again, which he has done every season, then it may be possible.

There was a point last season where Westbrook was in the discussion for First Team All-NBA as well as MVP. There were times when he was the Thunder’s best player on the floor. There will be even more of that next season as he and Durant should prove they are the best one-two punch in the NBA.

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