Where Should Westbrook Play?

Should Russell Westbrook play the point or should he be moved to shooting guard?
Point: He should play shooting guard Counter-Point: He should stay at the point
Russell Westbrook is perhaps one of the 10 best players in the NBA and the second-best player on the reigning champions of the Western Conference. His phenomenal scoring ability has made him into a rare talent at the point guard position and made his team into one of the best in the league. But I believe that he and the Thunder would both benefit if the team took away some of his playmaking responsibilities from him and start him at the shooting guard position.

We’ve already had one great scoring point guard in the past who shifted successfully from point guard to shooting guard to benefit both himself in the team. That player was Allen Iverson, who – despite being undersized at 6-foot – played shooting guard on the offensive end in the best years of his career, with Eric Snow, taller and a better passer, manning the point and defending the opposing team’s SG. Another example is Dwyane Wade, who started his career at the point but moved to SG since it was a better fit for his size and scoring mentality.

Currently, the Thunder’s most used starting lineup is of Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins as their 1-5, with Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin, and Nick Collison earning big minutes off the bench. I propose that Westbrook (who is 6'3", almost as big as Wade) make the same shift in position as Iverson did from point guard to shooting guard and OKC start Eric Maynor in the Eric Snow PG-role. The Thunder could rotate their starting lineup, going small (Maynor-Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka) against smaller teams and big (Maynor-Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins) against bigger ones.

After Harden’s departure, the Thunder have become one of the worst-passing teams in their league, and their offense – although effective because of the scoring brilliance of Durant and Westbrook – is disjointed. Well-planned defensive teams can exploit their lack of an offensive plan with strong defense, and it will hurt OKC in the playoffs.

Great scorers and ball-handlers have played SG or SF before: Iverson, Kobe, Wade, LeBron just to name a few. Moving Westbrook to SG will give the Thunder more direction as Maynor, a talented playmaker, will construct the offense when needed and Westbrook can focus more on scoring. And with Kobe getting older and Wade’s injury-related inconsistency, this move will make Westbrook what he seems destined to be: the best shooting guard in the NBA.

- Karan Madhok
The whole argument surrounding Russell Westbrook’s role on the OKC Thunder team stems from the fact that unlike traditional point-guards, who rack up assists and get teammates involved, Westbrook looks to score first. In that sense, he defies the conventional definition of a true point guard. But, even in that case, Westbrook should continue doing what he does best - playing the point for OKC and here’s why:

-- It would be understandable if the Thunder were suffering from Westbrook’s style of play. Instead, with Westbrook looking to score while manning the point, the Thunder have gone from losing in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs to winning the Western Conference Finals in 2012.

-- A cursory visit to NBA.com’s +/-stats will tell you that the OKC starting five of Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha- Kevin Durant- Serge Ibaka- Kendrick Perkins is the fifth best five-man unit in the league and second best in the West. Even the Miami Heat’s starting five ranks behind the Thunder here. The suggestion to get Eric Maynor to start tinkers with the Thunder’s balance too much, particularly since Maynor is only a quality backup option.

-- The Thunder rank among the league’s top five teams in terms of turnovers committed at 16.60 per game. At first impression, this may suggest Westbrook’s inadequacies at point-guard contributing to this stat, but this is clearly not the case. Kevin Durant, for all his top 10 numbers, is notorious on committing turnovers. At 3.7 TOPG, Durant is already among the league’s top five turnover leaders this season. NBA.com’s David Aldridge had even highlighted this aspect of Durant’s game after All-Star Weekend last season while listing out OKC’s chances of winning the title.

-- In the first 15 games this season, Westbrook has dished 8.6 APG, which ranks him sixth in the league behind the likes of Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Barring Rondo, who is averaging a phenomenal 13.7 APG, the other four names ahead of Westbrook are all averaging below 10 APG. Additionally, Westbrook is tallying 21.1 PPG, which puts him eighth in the NBA. So when you have a player who figures in the top 10 for assists and scoring, how much of a role change would you want for him?

-- Another one of the reasons the Westbrook-to-shooting-guard argument is bandied about so much is because the Thunder lost the 2012 NBA Finals. In such a situation, there is a tendency to look for answers to explain the Thunder’s loss. However, the two biggest reasons that the Thunder lost in five games to Miami is because their frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (combined shooting of 17-of-48) simply didn’t show up for the Finals, while James Harden went 18-of-48 in the series and committed 12 turnovers.

-- The problem, apparently, with Westbrook is that he doesn’t look to pass the ball enough. If that were indeed the case, would Kevin Durant have emerged the scoring champ in the last three seasons? Additionally, OKC ranks among the top two in points scored, field-goal shooting and three-point shooting percentages, while coming in at No. 7 in total assists among all NBA teams. Clearly, Westbrook is doing more than enough to keep OKC among the elite teams in the league. All criticisms of him or suggestions for a change in his role should be put to rest.

- Akshay Manwani