You know what our problem is? We’ve been spoiled. Spoiled by so many great young players lately that we sometimes forget about the young part. Derrick Rose, the league’s youngest MVP. Kevin Durant, youngest two-time scoring champ ever. It’s crazy, really.

Because of these phenoms, sometimes we get caught up and forget that 22-year-old players are going to have lots to learn. They’re going to make mistakes aplenty and, yes, they’re going to be repeat offenders and often times frustate the heck out of us couch-sitting coaches who are tweeting along at home.

As Russell Westbrook answered questions from the media after the Thunder’s convincing Game 5 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, what I really would have liked to know is what he was thinking and not saying. Had I been the plucky, bold point guard, my thought process would have gone something like this:

“You guys have no idea, do you? We get the win so Kevin and I are cool. We get the win so I’m a young guy with talent who is trying to do the right thing. We get the win so you can ask about what is in Kevin’s backpack. If we don’t get the win, though? If we lose this game? Then I become the problem. The selfish player who doesn’t realize I’m playing with a two-time scoring champion even though he’s one of my closest friends. Even though he won those scoring titles playing the majority of his minutes with me on the floor.”

In other words, I think we’ve been kind of unfair with respect to how we’ve criticized the play of Westbrook during this postseason. It’s easy to do and it makes sense if you’ve only watched a handful of Thunder games this season, or glance quickly at a stat sheet. As with everything else in life, the easy way isn’t always the right way. It’s not fair to Westbrook to paint him as problem child when dissecting Thunder losses, then forget about our arguments when discussing Thunder victories.

While there has been a lot written about Westbrook in the past few days, I think the most important thing to me is that we remember he’s a 22-year-old point guard who was voted to the All-NBA second team who also happens to be learning more about how to be a point guard every day. He is never going to be Jason Kidd or Steve Nash or even Tony Parker. His bravado is too bold and his personality is too strong to be tamed and this is a very good thing. With a calm, cool and collected superstar in Durant, Westbrook’s louder exterior is a good fit, even if it may not always look like the fit we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in point guard and scorer.

The same game he has been playing in these playoffs is what helped the Thunder get to 55 wins. It’s what made him arguably the Thunder’s best player in the first half of the season while Durant was finding his rhythm. It’s the same game that gives us thunderous dunks and screams that ignite the Thunder faithful and celebratory holster-action after huge three-pointers. It also comes with sometimes questionable decision-making and shot selection because it’s the game of a 22-year-old non-traditional point guard. You know, kind of like Derrick Rose, the MVP.

While Rose gets the green light because he is the main focal point for Chicago offensively, things are a little more difficult for Westbrook, who plays with the NBA’s leading scorer beside him. A leading scorer who sometimes also plays like the 22-year-old that he is, not always knowing how to put himself into the best situations to score. There’s a pressure that comes with playing alongside a superstar like Durant. Westbrook has made such a huge leap over the last 18 months, we have to temper our expectations and realize that things take time.

Why can’t we just enjoy him? The good, and bad, exciting and exhilarating, the shots that sometimes make us scratch and shake our heads and the commitment to getting better and improving. Enjoy it and appreciate it. Remember the youth, remember the gift we’ve been given with all of these young guys who are holding spots that are usually reserved for those older, while they simultaneously make mistakes that can only be excused by their inexperience and youth.

We’re watching the future develop now. The ups and downs of a 22-year-old shoot-first point guard who is trying to find his middle ground. This is fun. Even when it’s painful. Even when it makes you cringe. The stepping stones and stumbles of Westbrook’s career can remind us all of something important, too. It really is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Westbrook has the talent, desire and opportunity to get there. For now, let’s enjoy the ride and, above all else, allow him to enjoy it, too.

Comments (22)

  1. I don’t have anything snarky or intelligent to add, but just wanted to point out, this is amazing writing and spot-on analysis. That is all.

  2. Yo Trez Kerbz, why don’t you write about Joakim getting some oil.

  3. Westbrook is an easy target for most basketball “journalists”, he’s young, he’s full of swagger and confidence and doesn’t fit the PG mold as well as Nash or Kidd, so older experts are frowning at his attitude and stats geek at his shot selection. It’s very easy to target him when they lose.

    15-seasons vets still take seemingly stupid decisions down the stretch (See Pierce, James, Bryant, etc.), but they’ve proven their talent over and over again, so we’re not targetting them, everything is excused. Westbrook is younger than I am, he has been in the league 3 years (or is it 4?) so I’m not starting to get on his back for some forced shots. I think he knows better than most so-called experts what to do.

  4. THATS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT. WESTBROOK IS A SUPERSTAR ON THE RISE. HOPE HE STAYS IN THE CITY. WE LOVE HIM LIKE FAMILY.

  5. THATS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT. WESTBROOK IS A SUPERSTAR ON THE RISE. HOPE HE STAYS IN THE CITY. WE LOVE HIM LIKE FAMILY. THUNDER UPP

  6. Well first off, if Russell was maybe an inch taller and played the two, this criticism would be much more muted. As a play maker he needs to get his teammates in the game, but he’s a scorer, he should play to his strengths. How many bad shooting games has Kobe had?

  7. This article sucks, so does WestBroke! Memphis exposed him and hope he shoots shoots shoots!

    WestBroke = overrated

  8. @Blackmambala24 OKC is up 3-2. I hope they get “exposed” again in game 6 and move on.

  9. Holly I have been following you on twitter for a while now and have always enjoyed your short insights on twitter. This is my first column of your I have read and it was awesome. Your passion and enthusiasm for the game of basketball comes flying off the page and is a joy to read. Great work and now that I know your blog I will be reading more of your stuff.

  10. Whoever thinks Westbrook is overrated is delusional. Dude deserves every credit he’s been given and has earned every single bit of it.

    It’s hard find your leading when he’s being guarded by Memphis’ entire back-court lol

    Bulls vs OKC would make for an epic showdown between Rose and Westbrook. Still got my fingers crossed for this one.

  11. @Taylor Mucaria — Whoa whoa whoa, I agree, Holly writes well, but this is Trey Kerby’s blog, and he writes phenomenally. Word.

  12. who’s the only player that can hold Durant to under 30 pts? Russell Westbrook.

  13. People who play(ed) were critical of him.
    People who write defend him.

    Hmm….

  14. Great article Holly, and I agree whole-heartedly. These kids are still learning, and it’s been fun to watch their progress.

  15. Not much more to add really.. great article!

    It’s important to remember that the “older” generation (media and former players) always forget they had the same swagger or “attitude” when they were young.

    I think as more young people get involved in media there will be less “nose in the air” reporting and criticism by former players turned analysts.

  16. Thanks for the great reminder, Holly, that these guys are just 22 years old. Office workers get to make their mistakes without media scrutiny. And journalists get the benefit of editors and staff who clean things up before publication (this may be different in a blog setting, but still).

    These guys are coached but it’s still not the same thing–they are asked to go out and perform and compete, and this includes making many, many split-second decisions that will be scrutinized by national and international media.

    Given that dynamic, it seems these these young NBA guys are even more impressive.

  17. I see where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure I can subscribe to your “stop complaining and enjoy” philosophy when it comes to Westbrook (or anything, for that matter). Yes, he’s 22; yes, the Thunder cannot win without him; yes, he’s as exciting as they come and has much room for growth. All that being said, is that an excuse for dribbling out theshot clock and chucking up a contested jumper late in the fourth quarter? No. Even if it goes it, it’s not a good shot.

    When it goes in (and they win) it’s easy to forget. That’s why people complain about RW when the Thunder lose and not when they win. The misses are magnified, as is every poor decision. Personally, I find the offense runs a lot smoother with the ball’s in Harden’s hands. How many times have we seen him either make a play at the rim or drive deep and kick out for an open KD three? Enough to know that that’s some efficient shit. Hope to see more of that tonight.

    Keep up the great work!

  18. That photo is whack. Can’t tell whose face it is very much but it shows what looks like a bone grab. Whack choice by the editors.

  19. But maybe since the article is sorta defending playing “cocky” they thought it was appropriate? Whatever.

    The “You guys have no idea, do you?” line may be what Westbrook thinks and the author thinks but that is conceited and whack to me.

    Plenty of Westbrook’s decisions and patterns can be fairly criticized, especially if you are focused on winning big long-term and not just into watching a carnival of NBA moments.

  20. Holy MacKenzie, batman ! Thanks for this.

  21. He still shoots too much. And they are contested twos and wild drives to the basket. Enjoy the talent but the reason why people point fingers at Russell when they lose close games is it his fault for his shot selection

  22. brooks or durant is the problem … if there is a problem – they are the one’s who should be getting durant the ball, durant needs to, in the parlance of our times, “shine the light on himself”

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