State of the Team: Two sides of Westbrook

OKLAHOMA CITY — Anyone who has a passing interest in the wide world of Westbrook knows what an absolute paradox the Thunder point guard is.

One of the best point guards in the league, Russell Westbrook frustrates as much as he fascinates. And anyone who has any knowledge of Westbrook knows you get what you get with him. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. He’s always worthy of discussion or argument.

But one aspect of Westbrook’s game to consider is that it’s time to realize he’s not going to be a better shooter. Critics will start to gather more ammo in the Westbrook-shoots-more-than-Kevin Durant argument if Westbrook doesn’t figure something out, but here’s the deal: Westbrook will never be an elite shooter.

He’s not Durant with a silky delivery. Often times his shots are on the run, rushed and disjointed. That’s what makes him so fun to watch, but also makes it harder to put the ball in the basket. He also takes a lot of shots, not many of which are seen as high percentage.

Westbrook has had just three games this season where he’s shot better than 50 percent from the field. He’s had some real stinkers, too like the 3-for-11 against New Orleans. The 3-for-10 against Detroit. The 5-for-18 against Atlanta.

Is it a trend or is it tradition?

Well, he’s a career 42-percent shooter. A season ago, Westbrook finished the playoffs with just one game in The Finals were he shot better than 50 percent, including a 4-for-20 effort in Game 5. He was better than 50 percent in just one of the six games against the Spurs in the Western Conference finals and did it twice in five games against the Lakers in the playoffs.

Last week, Westbrook seemed to exhale after a 10-for-16 game against Cleveland where he scored 33 points, saying he was happy to have his shot finally start going in. It didn’t last, though. He went 17-of-44 in the next two games combined.

And there’s really no reason to be surprised. What is surprising is the fact Westbrook has been even below his career average, slipping to just 40.5 percent this year, and when he misses, he seems to compound it by missing more often.

But where Westbrook is worth the headaches is the energy. When he makes up his mind, no one in the league is faster or more intense, and those out there who see him as selfish are wrong. Westbrook’s assists are up to 8.4 per game, more than his career average of 6.9. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.97, nearly a full point higher than his career average.

Coach Scott Brooks seems to spend a lot of time defending his star point guard after games where Westbrook struggles. He shouldn’t even bother now. Westbrook is going to shoot a lot and miss a lot. When the Thunder lose, it’s easy to point at Westbrook. He’s shot 29 percent in the three losses this season, averaging four points below his season average.

Less selfish this season, but just as inconsistent. Time to live with it.

Who’s Hot: How about Serge Ibaka? After a shaky first two games of the season where he went a combined 5-for-18, Ibaka has been sensational. He’s shooting 56 percent on the year and is 26 for his last 42 over the past four games, a span where he has not scored fewer than 15 points. Ibaka has 12 blocks in the past four games as well as 32 rebounds.

Who’s Not: I don’t know if Kendrick Perkins is not hot, or what. Frankly, I never can quite figure Perkins out. He’s a great clubhouse presence, and I get that, but past the behind-the-scenes stuff, I struggle to try and figure out what Perkins does really well.

He played 33 minutes Wednesday against the Clippers and contributed no points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks. Seems like 33 minutes is too many for that kind of production. The game before, Perkins played 26 minutes and had seven rebounds and three points.

I’m not here to say Hasheem Thabeet should be playing more, but how much would change if he did?

Three Thoughts

1) Pretty good scoring week for the Thunder as they went over 100 points in all three games and now have done it four games in a row. While we know the Thunder have great individual talents in scorers Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, part of the credit for the increased production has been due to the increase in assists. .

A season ago, the Thunder were last in the league in assists, getting just more than 18 per game. Now, the Thunder are seventh in the league, getting 22 per game. Durant is averaging nearly two more assists per game this season (4.7) than he has for his career. There has been some fallout, however, as Durant has taken some criticism for passing too much. He even said coach Scott Brooks came to him and told him to shoot more, a conversation Durant described as “cool.”

I don’t think Durant passing more is a bad idea, however, passing to Kendrick Perkins instead of taking a shot — any shot — is probably a bad idea, and has likely had an impact on Durant averaging four turnovers per game. My prediction is Durant’s assist numbers will decline as the season goes on and the games becoming more meaningful.

2) My first thought after the Thunder played well and beat the Clippers Wednesday was: Oklahoma City is back on top of the Western Conference.

It’s probably a bit of an over-reaction. I get that now. It’s not Oklahoma City’s fault the schedule has been what it is, but it is the Thunder’s fault they haven’t played well in big games, despite there being only a handful on the schedule so far.

Yes, Thabo Sefolosha was great on defense against Chris Paul, but Paul missed a few he would normally make. In addition, the Thunder also benefitted from the fact Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups didn’t play. Check back with me in a few months when the Clippers are at full strength.

I think I’d be more willing to say the Thunder are back in playoff form if they can beat a Los Angeles team at full strength. Check back with me after the Thunder take on Memphis, San Antonio and the Lakers, too.

3) If Eric Maynor continues to be a no-show, maybe it’s time the Thunder give Reggie Jackson a fighting chance. Maynor has not been the spark he was two seasons ago when he came off the bench and starred in the playoffs. He missed almost all of last season with a knee injury. This year, Maynor is playing less and shooting worse than he did in the 2010-2011 season. Maynor missed all three of his field goals, had two assists, two rebounds and a turnover with no points against the Clippers Wednesday.

We don’t know much about Jackson, who is in his second year and has appeared in just seven games, averaging only four minutes per outing. However, if Maynor continues to struggle, why not work Jackson into the rotation and give him Maynor’s minutes?

Quotes of the Week

“My Motto is shoot until your arm falls off, but that was crazy. He’s going to have to have Tommy John after that. I couldn’t fathom taking 100 shots.”

 Kevin Durant on the 138 points Jack Taylor put up for Grinnell College earlier this week

“Thabo does a good job. Thabo is one of those guys where he stays with the basketball. He just keeps pursuing. Screens don’t bother him. He makes that decision you’re not going to screen me and he’s going to fight through every pick.”

Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Thabo Sefolosha’s defense against Chris Paul in Wednesday’s overtime win over the Clippers. Paul wen 2-for-14 shooting

News and Notes 

* Can’t stop staring at the turnover stats. Thunder are averaging 17 per game, good for 29th in the league. Hey, just saying.

* Not quite ready to say Hasheem Thabeet is All-Star worthy, however, it’s hard to not be impressed by a nice turnaround so far this season for the Thunder back-up center. He’s 11-for-13 from the field. In addition, Thabeet is shooting 78 perecnt from the free throw line. It’s a small sample size, but the numbers are are way better than his career figures.

Thabeet has played for Memphis, Houston and Portland before coming to Oklahoma City. He has played 10 games this season after playing just 20 the past two years combined. Thabeet is averaging 12.5 minutes per game, the most since his rookie season with Memphis in 2009-2010.

* Another reason for the value of Serge Ibaka over the departed James Harden: Blocks. The Thunder, led by Ibaka’s 3.4 per game, are getting 7.3 per game as a team, good for fifth in the league. They are also getting just 3.1 shots of their own blocked.

* Looks like the Thunder could be in good shape to have the Sixth Man of the Year, even after losing James Harden, but what makes Kevin Martin’s season so special is the fact he’s never come off the bench before. Unlike anything before in his career, he’s not the No. 1 option. Yeah, sure, he’s benefitted from having elite players like Westbrook and Durant around him, but Martin is averaging 17.8 points per game and shooting 49 percent.

Now the Thunder have to try and see if they can sign him after this season. Martin is in a contract year. It would be odd to see another top bench player leave if Martin decides not to re-sign.

* More on Martin: Coach Scott Brooks has adjusted his rotation, keeping Durant in the game with the second team. That definitely frees up Martin to score more and takes the pressure off of him to carry the offense by himself.

* I don’t think there’s any way James Harden gets booed when Houston’s starting lineup is announced Wednesday when the Rockets come to Oklahoma City. No player was more popular than Harden, so he’ll get a long, hearty cheer. But I do think once the game starts, the cheering will stop.

* Kevin Durant just gets it. Simple as that. Not only is he the most-popular Thunder player — and rightfully so — even when he screws up, he makes up for it. After he smacked a lady in the front row with a bad pass leading to a turnover, Durant got a huge cheer when he went over and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

What’s Next?

Can’t wait for Wednesday when the Thunder play host to the Rockets and James Harden. If you thought the games against Memphis and the Clippers felt big, wait until the Thunder go out of their way to show Harden what he left behind. Expect a extremely inspired defensive performance from Oklahoma City.

In the meantime, the Thunder play at Boston (Friday) at Philadelphia (Saturday) and then home against Charlotte (Monday). It will be a tough, two-game swing against some solid Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Tower of Power?

I’d say “Push” at this point. Big-time win against the Clippers on Wednesday, but the schedule makers have made it where it’s tough to get a good barometer of how good this team is. That should change in the near future as the Thunder face playoff teams in their next two games.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @Theandrewgilman