Thursday, May 3, 2012

Russell Westbrook: OKC Thunder’s 6’3” big man

How is the NBA counteracting the dearth of viable big men that are entering the league these days? Simple, teams have started to look more for penetrating point guards like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook in the draft to help generate points in the paint.

Just look at some of the teams in the league now and how they operate. When the game is on the line, the Chicago Bulls give the ball to Derrick Rose and ask him to blow past a defender to either get them a critical basket or force the defense to send him to the foul line.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie point guard Kyrie Irving had a great year and pulled off a few impressive wins with his penetrating ability. The San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker has been doing it for years but no year has he been as effective as he was this season.

But there are many pundits who wonder why the Thunder would let Westbrook do so much scoring or have the ball at the end of games when you have such a dynamic scorer like Kevin Durant in the lineup.

Durant has been the league’s scoring champion for three years running and can shoot from anywhere on the floor. People fail to realize though that without a true post presence on the floor, a lot of those easy looks Durant gets comes from ball movement and Westbrook’s penetration.

Especially since Durant is not very adept at handling the ball. Durant has been questioned on numerous occasions by reporters who wonder if he gets upset with Westbrook’s so-called “ball-hogging” but Durant has tried to explain that it helps him when Westbrook takes a lot of shots.

Regardless of how outsiders feel about how the Thunder play, what matters most is that the Thunder are winning with this formula. Westbrook and Durant take most of the shots and the team as a whole plays stingy defense. This formula is similar to the one coach Larry Brown used when he coached the Philadelphia 76ers from 1997-2003.

Brown had the 76ers playing tough defense and allowed Allen Iverson to hoist up all the shots he wanted. While Iverson wasn’t a very good mid-range shooter he was nearly impossible to keep out of the paint with his tremendous speed and quickness.

In fact, Iverson was so good at getting into the paint that he averaged nine or more free throw attempts per game for nearly ten years straight. It’s insane that he was able to take so much abuse considering he only weighed about a buck sixty-five.

Regardless of how unorthodox this style of play seemed, Brown had the 76ers playing in the NBA Finals in his fourth year coaching the team. The 76ers did fall to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in that Finals series but Brown was able to coach that team to the playoffs every year except for his first year coaching there.

So it seems that playing a little “big man” like Iverson was a winning strategy even during a time when the league had better actual “big men” still roaming the paint. But now that we are in an era where actual big men are nearly extinct, you can expect to see more and more of this style of play dominating the league. Especially if the Thunder make it to the Finals this year. 

Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.

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