Russell Westbrook used to be a free-wheeling, turnover-prone, reckless point guard. Who can forget his coach yelling, “pass the ball!” and then benching him last year in the playoffs against the Mavericks? Here’s where Westbrook ranked in the NBA over the last four years in turnovers:
2011-2012: 6th, 239 (3.6 per game)
2010-2011: 1st, 316 (3.9 per game)
2009-2010: 9th, 268 (3.3 per game)
2008-2009: 5th, 274 (3.3 per game)
Against the Lakers, the 23-year-old Westbrook turned the ball over just four times in five games. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two outrageous postgame looks and four turnovers. Was that just one amazing series, or has Oklahoma City’s point guard grown up? [Note: The Lakers point guards are Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, two guys who play suspect defense.]
Westbrook’s had an interesting season. He feuded with teammate Kevin Durant early. Then, he got an $80 million extension. He proceeded to shoot a career-high 45 percent from the field while taking more shots than ever (19 per game). While his turnovers were down a bit in the regular season (they’re down significantly through nine playoff games), his assists cratered from 8.2 to 5.5. The Thunder went from 23rd in assists last year to 30th (last) this year. [Note: If assists are your stat, the Spurs were 4th in the NBA, with five more per game than the Thunder. So there's that.]
It’ll be interesting to see how Westbrook does against the Danny Green/Kawhi Leonard combo. Leonard is more likely to defend Durant, but he might spend some time on Westbrook, too. Both are significantly better (and younger) than anyone Westbrook has seen this postseason, and Green did a tremendous job when matched up with Chris Paul of the Clippers last round. CP3 might have had his worst playoff series as a pro – he did have a strained groin – shooting 36 percent and registering just 37 assists vs. 18 turnovers.
Which Westbrook will show up? The moody, ball-hogging turnover-prone one from last year, or the disciplined one who dominated the Lakers?
In case you’re curious, in three games against the Spurs this year, he shot 44 percent, and averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers. It’s difficult to put those games in perspective, though, because in the first meeting (in January; OKC won), the Spurs started Gary Neal, Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair. In the second meeting (in February, San Antonio won), Green and Leonard played larger roles. In the third meeting (in March, San Antonio won), when Green and Leonard were both finally starting, Westbrook went off, scoring 36 points. Manu Ginobili, who will probably see plenty of minutes against Westbrook, didn’t play in all three meetings.