Morning Shootaround

Russell Westbrook held to six points in loss to Utah Jazz

Oklahoma City knows it will take time to mesh Westbrook with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony staff reports

* Recap: Jazz 96, Thunder 87

Presumably, even the Traveling Wilburys had a learning curve, knitting together the skills and talents of great solo performers Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony might need a little more time to figure out how to blend their abilities without losing themselves or their games in the process. Lighting up the New York Knicks’ defense in their season opener was one thing, but the so-called “OK3” didn’t fare as well against a tighter Utah crew, as Royce Young dissects for

It was a notable moment in what was an unusual performance from Westbrook, who had only six points on 2-of-11 shooting plus seven turnovers in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 96-87 loss to the Utah Jazz. He still finished with 13 rebounds and nine assists — because Westbrook always finds a way to impact the box score no matter what — but as he passed up midrange looks and geared down his rim attacks, it was clear he was trying to navigate both what the Jazz were giving him and make sure that included utilizing his two new All-Star teammates.

Paul George finished with 22 on 8-of-19 shooting. Carmelo Anthony had 26 on 12-of-26 shooting. Westbrook, with only 11 attempts, had a second straight game in which not one, but two teammates took more shots than him. That happened only two times total last season (not counting a game where he played only a half).

It’s clear Westbrook is adjusting and adapting to George and Anthony. Westbrook has repeated through the years that he just “reads and reacts” and that “the game will tell you what to do.”

Part of the struggle came from Westbrook missing shots — he didn’t finish a couple of clear opportunities at the rim — but he also seemed to be caught in between. He has taken a noticeably different approach to the first two games this season than from the guy that set an NBA record for usage last season.

“He’s trying to figure out how he can best work in the entire group,” coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s really, really an unselfish person and an unselfish player. Because what he’s doing right now is saying, ‘OK, how do I help the group? How do I make the group better? What do I need to do?’ And I think he’s just working through trying to figure that out.”

The Thunder struggled mightily to score — they had 19 points with under four minutes left in the half and had a single basket over an 11-minute stretch — but Westbrook resisted. The game was screaming for a 2016-esque takeover, with him attacking relentlessly and firing from all angles, but he continued to run the offense and look for setups.

Westbrook has the luxury of two all-world scorers beside him and wants to take advantage of that to make the game easier for everyone — himself included. But it’s a balance, and one he’s going to search for the first couple weeks of the season, maintaining his dominance on a game while not overtaking it. The Thunder will be at their best when Westbrook remains their best player, but that syncs with him lifting George and Anthony.

Oklahoma City will look to get on track against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight (7 ET, NBA League Pass).


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