Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Oct. 13) -- Billy Donovan stands up for Russell Westbrook's playing style

NBA.com staff reports

This morning’s headlines:

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Donovan backs Westbrook’s style of play — There’s a trademark style to Oklahoma City Thunder star and reigning Kia MVP Russell Westbrook’s game each night. But recently, word has come out — via a new book by Jack McCallum and a recent Zach Lowe podcast — that very style is one the Warriors say they can stop easily. Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t having that and stood buy his point guard’s style after Thursday’s practice, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Jack McCallum’s new book “Golden Days: West’s Lakers, Steph’s Warriors and the California Dreamers who Reinvented Basketball” cites anonymous Warriors players saying that Westbrook’s style of play is easy to defend against. The buzz was supported by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who earlier this week said on “The Lowe Post” podcast that he’s had conversations with Warriors players about defending Westbrook.

Westbrook averaged 27.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists in four games against Golden State last season, but he also had 32 turnovers and shot just 37.5 percent in those games. In the last 17 games against Golden State, 13 of those with Durant, Westbrook has eclipsed 40 percent from the field just three times.

The Warriors were able to focus their defensive efforts on Westbrook last season, but this season should look different with the additions of elite scorers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Westbrook was not made available to the media Thursday, but Thunder coach Billy Donovan was asked about the reports. “I’m not going to respond to that,” Donovan said.

“Russell to me is one of the best players in the world. He’s done it at a very high level for a long period of time. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m not really going to comment on any of that.”

When asked if the Thunder needs to do anything differently to make Westbrook tougher for Golden State to defend, Donovan stuck by the notion that Westbrook is a difficult assignment.

“Just because somebody says that, I think you’ve got to look at what Russell’s been able to do, and Russell’s been very good for us,” Donovan said. “Obviously last year, our team was totally different than it was the first year, and the first year there it was a heck of a series that went seven games where we had a great opportunity being up 3-1. I think Russell was a huge part of that.

“Last year we didn’t play them in the playoffs, played them in the regular season, but I also think there’s a team out there, there’s five other people out there playing. So, I think Russell’s done a great job, and I think Russell is a hard guy to guard, and he’s very difficult and challenging because of his speed, his smarts and his intelligence. Whether or not he plays in the half court or the open court, I think he’s very difficult to guard.”

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Celtics’ brass excited to see team in action — After an offseason overhaul and a perfect preseason, the Boston Celtics have to be feeling pretty good about themselves as Tuesday’s season-opener nears. That showdown in Cleveland against the Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET, TNT) is the first real game for this team and Celtics officials couldn’t be more giddy about the start of a new era, writes Keith Pearson of the Boston Herald:

The Celtics roster was overhauled with just four players — Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier — back in green, while the primary reason the C’s were the No. 1 seed in the East, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder were traded to Cleveland with Kyrie Irving coming back.

“I feel like we took some tough steps this summer, steps you wouldn’t necessarily want to take. You don’t necessarily take 11 guys and change them out of a team that won the regular season in the East, but it was pretty clear we weren’t all the way where we wanted to be,” Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck said last night before the Shamrock Foundation’s Tip-Off Gala at the Westin Boston Waterfront. “So we wanted to take the steps so that we can contend legitimately for a championship at some point in the future.”

Even though he had comments Wednesday propping Boston ahead of Cleveland as a “real, live sports city,” Irving is not trying to put too much into his return to the banks of the Cuyahoga where he spent the first six NBA seasons, winning a title in 2016 and getting to the Finals two other times while serving as the top option for LeBron James.

“I’m just happy to just start NBA basketball back again,” Irving said. “It was a long summer coming off the Finals loss and what we went through and of course the trade happening. But now it’s time to move on to some more NBA basketball in a new uniform and get excited about that.”

After a perfect preseason that included a pair of wins over Charlotte and Philadelphia, Grousbeck has been impressed with the way all of the new pieces are falling into place.

“I think this feels like a classic team. I think these guys, the way they play, the way they think the game, the way they play unselfishly, their skill level, their character — these guys could have played in the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s or the ’80s — the great eras of the Celtics. I think they’d fit right in.

“This is a team built for Celtic Pride and hopefully for another banner someday.”

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Mbah a Moute getting comfortable with Rockets — Luc Mbah a Moute has spent his entire NBA career creating a role as one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. As he begins his first season with the Houston Rockets, he’s readying his usual skills for a new season while also relishing being on a team that has other defensive players, too. Glynn A. Hill of the Houston Chronicle has more:

Mbah a Moute habitually guarded opponents’ top scorers by the time he developed himself into a defensive force in the league. In Houston, he appreciates the Rockets refocus on defense; bringing in Paul and forward P.J. Tucker, both well-respected defenders in the league.

“Oh very,” he said, when asked if Tucker’s defensive prowess makes his job easier.

“Just having someone else out there who can guard the other team’s best player. A lot of times we end up being at the three and four—both forward positions—so he can switch onto a small; he can switch onto a big; it just makes our defense so much better.”

“It’s not just him, it’s also Trevor (Ariza), who can play multiple positions defensively.” he continued. “You have a lot of guys who can play different positions. When we click defensively we’re pretty tough.”

Mbah a Moute has played well through four games, including an exhibition against the Shanghai Sharks where he scored 12 points with two rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Through three preseason games, he’s averaging 9.7 points (shooting 62.5% from behind the arc), 2.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game.

Now on the sixth NBA team, Mbah a Moute said he’s embracing his opportunity in Houston.

“The last couple years with the Clippers we had a good team but we never went past the first round. I think with this team we have the potential to go further than that,” he said.

“Being in a situation where you play for a team that has a chance to go far in the season; that’s special in itself.”

“I really enjoy myself here,” he said. “I think it’s a great staff, the atmosphere here is amazing.”

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Warriors’ Green shares special bond with Pistons great Wallace — Few could control a game in the early 2000s without scoring like Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace could. The former four-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award winner was not only a defensive force for Detroit, but a role model a young man in Michigan named Draymond Green. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle details the relationship and bond Wallace and Green share to this day:

As a kid growing up in Saginaw, Mich., roughly 70 miles north of the Palace of Auburn Hills, Green seldom missed a Pistons game on TV. During fifth grade, he became mystified by the muscle-bound big man with the disco-era hairdo. At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Wallace was routinely swatting the shots of much taller players.

Two years later, Green accompanied his AAU teammate, Jordan Dumars — son of then-Detroit general manager Joe Dumars — to a Pistons home game. In the locker room afterward, Green met his favorite player. Wallace was struck by the fact that, instead of asking for an autograph, Green wanted to know how Wallace became such a dominant defender.

Undrafted out of Division II Virginia Union in 1996, Wallace had tried out for an Italian team before finding his footing in the NBA as a low-post enforcer. What he lacked in size or skill he made up for in unyielding will. In that home locker room in Auburn Hills, Wallace told Green: “With hard work, anything is possible.”

“You never know what type of impact you have on a kid’s life, man,” Wallace said recently. “It just makes me feel good to know that he actually got it, you know? Some kids, they want to run off and do their own thing. But he stuck to the script, and he actually understood what I was talking about.”

As the league shifted to more switch-heavy schemes, Green’s ability to guard all five positions helped him get on the floor. Now, as he enters his sixth year in the NBA, Green is the emotional leader of an elite Golden State defense.

This is a player who last season posted the first triple-double in NBA history without double-digit points and made five defensive plays in the last minute of one-possession games that helped seal victories. Though far more versatile than Wallace, Green shares his dogged desire.

“When you’re undersized, you need to have even more emotion,” Green said. “That’s something (Wallace) had. Watching him as a kid, I could see that he just wanted it more than everybody else.”

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