Shootaround (Dec. 1): Russell Westbrook's triple-double run continues
NBA.com staff reports
Never-say-die Westbrook powers win | Lue, Smith discuss Terry incident | Crowder’s plea for Celtics’ defense | Simmons as PG?
No. 1: Box score doesn’t tell story of Westbrook’s dominance — Another night, another triple-double for Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. His latest one came in a thrilling OT win over the visiting Washington Wizards, a 35-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist barrage that marked his fourth straight triple-double. But as Royce Young of ESPN.com points out, some critics are finding fault with Westbrook’s run by looking to the shooting numbers and more in the box score. And as Young points out, doing so misses the point of how Westbrook is dominating:
It appeared that Russell Westbrook’s outrageous workland and nonsensical statistical madness in the first quarter of the season was catching up. As the Oklahoma City Thunder let a 16-point lead slip away, which turned into a seven-point deficit with four minutes remaining against the Washington Wizards, Westbrook was clanging his way to an eyebrow-raising shooting night. You could feel the Monday Morning Point Guards and hot-takers revving their engines.
5-of-24. 6-of-26. 7-of-28. Missed layups. Missed jumpers. Missed everything.
He already had his triple-double. It was the win that was in doubt, and Westbrook wasn’t going to let that go without resistance. So naturally, despite his shooting struggles, Westbrook splashed a 3 with 8.5 seconds remaining to force overtime. And from there, he outscored the Wizards himself, 14-10, as the Thunder won their fourth straight, 126-115.
“When he goes through difficulties, he focuses more,” coach Billy Donovan said, “and I think that’s really unique.”
The descriptors are becoming platitudes, as Westbrook has somehow normalized the triple-double. He has taken what is a career highlight for many and turned it into an expectation. Or better, an average. This is a run of four consecutive triple-doubles for Westbrook, which somehow only ties the longest such streak of his career. He’s one assist and two rebounds away from the streak being eight games. He’s halfway to the number he posted for last season — 18 — which was the most in a campaign since Magic Johnson in 1981-82.
And yet, there were plenty who couldn’t ignore the volume of shots or arctic-cold shooting percentages. There’s already a small but annoying chorus labeling Westbrook’s triple-doubles as merely stat-padding; even with the jaw-dropping numbers, Westbrook still can’t shake the minority ready to chirp about any inefficiency. What those box-score hawks are missing, though, is the impact Westbrook is having on a nightly basis. The Thunder need every drop they’re getting from their star, and as much as he can, he’s providing it.
On Wednesday, while the shots clanked, Westbrook didn’t stop. He keeps coming, shucking the worry of what the final line might look like. Sure, the Thunder would’ve won more comfortably had Westbrook shot the ball better. But he’s carrying an extreme burden, with his performance tied to the Thunder’s in most every way. He has never been an overly efficient scorer, and with his usage rocketing into uncharted territory, it’s only natural that he’ll be off some nights. What’s never off, though, is his will to win.
“For me, every play matters,” Westbrook said. “You have to see what’s going on in the game, and you can always impact the game in different ways. That’s the type of player I am, trying to find ways to impact the game, whatever is going on.”
What’s lost on the critics, the ones who zero in on his shot attempts, his misses or his turnovers, is that those numbers come organically because Westbrook simply doesn’t let up. He could pay mind to what the numbers look like and gear down for something like 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting. But if he does that, the Thunder don’t have a chance to win. Even if he misses the game-tying 3, Westbrook’s willing to accept that.
No. 2: Lue, Smith discuss incident vs. Bucks — If you’re up late tonight after TNT’s doubleheader, Shaqtin’ A Fool will be on as usual. One of the sure fire nominees this week will be J.R. Smith, for the in-game hello he gave Jason Terry on Tuesday night. After playing coy about the incident after the game, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ swingman chatted with his coach, Tyronn Lue, to clear the air about what happened. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more :
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called J.R. Smith’s wandering off the court to hug the Bucks’ Jason Terry an “embarrassing moment” and said Smith’s ski-masked explanation of ignorance after the game “wasn’t right.”
“Me and J.R. talked about it,” Lue said after practice Wednesday, which followed what was Cleveland’s worst loss of the season, a 118-101 downer in Milwaukee. “We’re just going to move forward. We had a discussion about it, he felt embarrassed about it, it was an embarrassing play. We talked about it. We’re moving on.”
Even more bizarre, after the game Smith said “I didn’t even know I was in the game. My bad.”
On Wednesday, Lue said “I talked to him about that also. There’s no need for that. Just address the media in the right way, move on.”
Smith, who met with the team’s beat reporters after receiving treatment Wednesday, explained: “I said it more in a joking manner because you can see what happened, obviously I wasn’t paying attention.
“For me to just sit there and tell you I wasn’t paying attention makes it plain and boring somewhat, especially when you’re asking a question you already know the answer to,” said Smith, who is also mired in a 3-for-29 shooting slump over the last three games. “But at the same time, I still have to give that boring answer, for whatever reason.”
Part of the reason (but not all of it, the man did walk off the court during play to hug an opponent for goodness sakes) Smith’s blunder created such a buzz was that fans were considering the source. Smith, 31, has an enigmatic past in which he racked more than $1 million in league fines, including in 2014 for tying together opponents’ shoelaces while waiting for free throws. He also has a history of off-court trouble and run-ins with the law.
This is the player, after all, who went shirtless for a week after the Cavs won the Finals. He was then savvy enough to turn the likeness of his tattooed, naked upper half into a T-shirt. There’s never been a shot Smith didn’t like. All of it is part of J.R. Being J.R.
“This is the first I can say mental error that I’ve had since I was here,” Smith said. “I mean, I think that’s just one of the reasons why it’s so big because it hasn’t been seen yet here.”
No. 3: Crowder calling for Celtics to get ‘nastier’ on defense — The Boston Celtics don’t lack for defensive stoppers, what with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and others. But, the Celtics’ defensive rating has dropped from 100.9 last season (5th in NBA) to 105.4 (20th in NBA) this season after last night’s 121-114 home loss to the Detroit Pistons. Afterward, Crowder was calling for a renewed focus on defense, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:
There are times when Boston Celtics swingman Jae Crowder talks after games and, if you shut your eyes, it’s eerie just how similar he can sound to Kevin Garnett. Just the other day, Crowder posted a picture on Instagram that featured himself and Garnett with the caption, “1 of my idols.”
It’s unfair to compare anyone to Garnett, but if this young Celtics team has a conscience, a voice that’s eager to speak up when things go awry, it’s typically Crowder. And on the heels of Wednesday’s 121-114 loss to the Detroit Pistons, you could sense the frustration in Crowder’s voice as he tried to pinpoint the reasons Boston couldn’t hose off a Detroit team that shot a blistering 55.2 percent at TD Garden.
“I think we have to get a little more nastier on the defensive end,” Crowder said. “Not let a team come in and get comfortable. It’s not been an ongoing thing; it happened today and it happened a couple games but, for the most part, we’ve been trying to impose our will first. That’s what our mindset is and that’s the mindset going forward.”
“Tough loss tonight. I didn’t think we were gonna lose this game tonight,” Crowder said. “We had injuries early [in the season] and we’re just trying to figure it out.”
When pressed on his seemingly vexed demeanor, Crowder stressed that he’s happy with Boston’s improvements lately but simply frustrated by a defensive dud. As with Garnett, these bumps in the road simply don’t sit well with Crowder.
“We lost today. That’s not a good feeling,” Crowder said. “I’m good though. We lost, I’ll go back and watch it. We got Sacramento coming in here trying to beat us and we’ll be ready for them.
“I like to win. We lost. It’s not happy. It’s not a good feeling.”
There were positives beyond Thomas for Boston: Kelly Olynyk matched his season high with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting over 26 minutes and Crowder was able to play 35-plus minutes after being on a minutes restriction until this week while working his way back from an ankle injury.
But the Celtics are left staring at a 10-8 record and find themselves lumped among five East teams with 10 victories. It’s much too early to obsess about playoff positioning, and yet it’s hard not to look at the logjam and fret wins that got away, particularly after Boston finished tied with three teams last season and a tiebreaker determined their playoff seeding.
The Celtics were hyped as the possible No. 2 team in the East entering the season but have yet to play like it. Crowder’s eager for his Celtics to launch. But there simply hasn’t been enough consistency, particularly on the defensive end, for this team to take flight.
No. 4: Sixers envision Simmons as point guard — The Philadelphia 76ers are hoping to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Ben Simmons, on the court at last next month. He is recovering from a Jones fracture in his right foot and may be able to get back in the mix come January. Whenever he does get into his first NBA game, coach Brett Brown sees him as a point guard, writes Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
76ers coach Brett Brown has always had every intention to make Ben Simmons a point guard.
His latest declaration of that came Wednesday. And the transformation will come sooner than the Sixers originally scheduled.
“When he’s ready to go to the court, my intention is to give him the ball and let him be the point guard,” Brown said. “That’s the plan. That doesn’t just happen. It takes a little bit of time to introduce him.”
To make room, the Sixers would slide Jerryd Bayless off the ball. However, Bayless would still guard the opposing team’s point guards. That’s of course if he’s able to play. Bayless is sidelined with left wrist soreness called by liagment damage.
The coach was talking about how the team is preparing the first overall pick for an expected January return.
Brown initially talked about making Simmons the team’s point guard in the weeks after drafting him in June. Then the coach basically reiterated it after Simmons’ impressive Utah Summer League debut on July 4. He had 10 points, eight rebounds and five mostly electrifying assists in Monday’s loss to the Boston Celtics.
“Everyone gets all twisted on what their version of a point guard is,” Brown told NBA.com at the time. “When I say ‘point guard’ I mean point guard. You’ve got the ball. You could call him Isiah Thomas, the old Isiah Thomas of my generation. You could call him Chris Paul. I mean point guard point guard. There are times I think that he can be a point guard. Not Draymond Green. Not LeBron [James]. Not Lamar Odom. That’s a point forward. I walk both lines at different moments. To start him off, we’ll play him as a point forward.”
At the time, they wanted Simmons to get rebounds, lead the fast break, and initiate the offense in certain situations when the opportunities permit. The Sixers saw Simmons as a locomotive that can pass and handle the ball.
“It wouldn’t surprise me, if you fast-forwarded all this a few years where we may sort of declare him a point guard,” Brown said last week on NBA.com’s Hang Time Podcast. “Sometimes in my aggressive wishes, dreams, I say why don’t you just give him the ball?”
It turns out that plan went from a few years to a few months.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson could be back in the lineup soon, maybe even this weekend … Pistons backup guard Reggie Bullock will reportedly miss 2-4 weeks due to a meniscus tear … Lots of warm fuzzies in OKC last night as Scott Brooks made his return to town as coach of the Washington Wizards … Before a wet floor not only led to the cancellation of last night’s Sixers-Kings game in Philly, but delayed the debut of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor playing together … The Sixers sent Nerlens Noel to their NBA D-League affiliate in Delaware to continue his injury rehab work … Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young (calf strain) will be out the next 2-4 weeks … Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both have fond memories of their time playing under coach Tom Thibodeau … Mavericks guard Deron Williams has opened a new MMA gym in Dallas …