Russell Westbrook

If Derrick Rose is an MVP candidate, what does that make Russell Westbrook?


Derrick Rose has made it clear that he intends to produce at an MVP level this season, but he’s off to a bit of a rough start. In total, Rose’s numbers against the Thunder were nice: 28 points, six assists, four rebounds, and only two turnovers. That’s enough to get Rose into the discussion, if not merit a place as a serious contender for the award. But take in Rose’s full stat line and his season opening performance becomes markedly less impressive; it took Rose 31 shots (!) to get to that 28-point mark, and he connected on just 38.7% of those 31 attempts. Oomf. Rose’s performance takes a huge fall on the basis of efficiency, and though he was able to keep his turnovers down, it’s not exactly kosher for him to be taking that many shots, particularly when he’s hitting so few of them.

One of the biggest detriments to Rose’s efficiency was the impressive number of long jumpers he managed to chuck. Rose is actually a pretty sturdy shooter from mid-range, but he took 12 attempts from 16+ feet from the basket, and made just two of them. He fell in love with the long two-pointer, and while I don’t necessarily doubt Rose’s ability to hit that shot, it’s a flat-out waste for a player with his speed, handle, and creativity to be suckered into those attempts on the regular.

If Rose sticks to this prescription, he’s no MVP candidate. Even if he drops 28 a night with six assists. Volume can be impressive on first glance, but efficiency is what endures. Great players are often marked by their discretion, and last night’s D-Rose wasn’t all that great.

Russell Westbrook was, though. Rose and Westbrook will likely always be linked by their position and some nostalgic commitment to draft classes (Rose was selected No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft, Westbrook at No. 4), but the two were entirely different in approach last night. Rose doesn’t have a teammate like Kevin Durant to work off of, but Westbrook managed some of his most impressive sequences on his own. Westbrook isn’t coasting in KD’s wake. He’s as vital to OKC’s success as Durant, and together they’re powering the damn thing. If the Thunder make it to 50 wins again, Durant will be soaking up an unfathomable amount of sunshine. But Westbrook, camped out in partial shade, deserves his due.

Last night, Westbrook only matched Rose’s 28 and six. He only threw in 10 rebounds for good measure (is there any question that Russell is Jason Kidd’s heir apparent as the top-rebounding point guard in the league?). He only did it all on a 15 shots and 53.3% shooting. No big deal, just truly MVP-worthy numbers from a guy who hasn’t made a peep about the award and likely won’t even be mentioned in MVP chatter all year, save as a Durant footnote. But last night, Westbrook blew “MVP candidate” Derrick Rose out of the water, and it wasn’t even close. Compare the tape (I haven’t even mentioned Westbrook’s defense, which is very much superior to Rose’s), compare the highlights, compare the box scores, compare the final verdict — by almost every conceivable measure Westbrook was the better player, even if it was only for a single game.

Rose will certainly have better nights than this one, but it’s scary to imagine that Westbrook might, too. Yet Rose will live in the spotlight due to declarations of his MVP candidacy and claims of an improved three-point shot, while Westbrook will be pegged as a mere sidecar rider. The hype around Rose is deserved — he’s a phenomenal talent, and this was not one of his finer nights — but to let Durant’s clout obscure Westbrook’s brilliance would be tragic.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.