Time to get off Russell Westbrook’s back, it’s not his fault

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Whenever the Thunder lose, like they did in Game 2 Thursday night, the blame falls quickly on Russell Westbrook. He started 1-7 shooting with just one assist as the Thunder fell behind 18-2 to open the game. A hole they could never get out of.

If he would just stop taking shots away from Durant, if he would just be a more traditional point guard, if he…

Stop it. That means you, Magic Johnson. You are missing the point on the Thunder’s team dynamic. And the Game 2 loss is not Westbrook’s fault.

People need to stop trying to make Westbrook into what he is not and appreciate what he is. Here is Thunder coach Scott Brook’s comment, from the twitter of Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman.

“He’s never going to be John Stockton. He’s never going to be Mo Cheeks (one of Brooks’ assistant coaches),” he said “But there are a lot of players out there who are never going to be Russell Westbrook.”

Let me be blunt — this team would not be better with Mo Cheeks or even John Stockton at the helm. Because what the Thunder have to have to win is a dynamic scorer next to Durant, not just more shots for Durant.

Don’t believe me? From ESPN’s Dean Oliver (one of the gurus of advanced stats for basketball):

In fact, the refrain that “he takes away too many shots from Durant” has been a commonly heard criticism of Westbrook all season. The problem with this attack is that the numbers show that the Thunder haven’t actually done better in games where Durant has had more opportunities than Westbrook this season….

For some perspective, the average usage percentage (number of possession a player uses per game) is 20.0 percent, Durant’s average this season is 30.3 percent, and Westbrook’s average is 31.7 percent (5th-highest in NBA)….

The Thunder offense is at its worst when Durant has an above average usage percentage and Westbrook has a below average usage percentage – averaging just 104.0 points per 100 possessions in those 20 games, with the team winning less than half of those as a result.

Right now, Kevin Durant is an efficient scorer because he doesn’t have to do all the scoring. He has Westbrook, he has James Harden, some nights other guys step up. Remove Westbrook from the equation and Durant is now forced to take shots he currently passes up as not good enough, not open enough. You don’t score at a high rate on those shots. Durant would be less efficient and the Thunder would suffer.

Interestingly, Oliver notes that the Thunder are at their best when both Westbrook and Durant use fewer possessions than normal. Those are the games where James Harden or some other player stepped up for the Thunder, taking the scoring burden off both of the big stars.

There are nights Westbrook is going to miss shots, like any other scorer. But the man does pass — he has assisted on 28.9 percent of his teammates baskets when he has been on the floor these playoffs. Remember some of those plays, like late in Game 2 when he passed up a good look 15 footer on the baseline to feed Durant in the corner. He will make the basketball play.

The fact of the matter is if the Thunder are going to come back and win Game 3 in Miami Sunday, it will be because Westbrook was shooting and scoring. A lot. Not just passing. He has to be himself.

And we should appreciate him for what he is.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Suns Eric Bledsoe revenge game

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Giannis Antetokounmpoone of the NBA’s best players – won’t help new Bucks teammate Eric Bledsoe in a revenge game against the Suns tonight.

Not only is Milwaukee missing Mirza Teletovic and John Henson (and Matthew Dellavedova and Jabari Parker), Antetokounmpo is out.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Antetokounmpo will miss Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to right knee soreness.

Antetokounmpo says his knee soreness is the same injury he dealt with in the off-season, which caused him to withdraw from the Greek national team.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting out shootaround. “I’m just trying to be careful with it and not make any damage. That’s it, because it’s a long season and I’m trying to be careful.”

The Bucks have been outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions without Antetokounmpo this season (and are +2.3 without him). Phoenix isn’t good, but neither is Milwaukee without Antetokounmpo.

I don’t think Bledsoe will mind a chance to get more aggressive tonight, though.

Report: Mexico City could host NBA’s 31st minor-league team

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league would look into placing a franchise in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s minor-league has affiliates for 26 of 30 NBA teams and counting. The league also has youth academies in China, India, Australia and Senegal – and also counting.

Jonathan Givony of  ESPN:

The NBA will announce a new basketball development and training academy in Mexico City during the Global Games December 7th and 9th, in conjunction with CONADE (Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport) and the Mexican Basketball Federation, sources told ESPN.

Mexico City could emerge as the 31st G League franchise, where prospects from the seven academies graduate up to, according to sources.

A minor-league team in Mexico City could be a nice testing ground for an NBA franchise. An unaffiliated minor-league team is also an interesting wrinkle, especially how it’d be stocked.

Ultimately, experimentation is a purpose of the NBA’s minor league. This would be running multiple test cases at once.

Lonzo Ball on his shot: “I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting.”

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Lonzo Ball‘s shooting woes this season have been well chronicled. Maybe even beaten to death — but when your father is a hype man, and Magic Johnson says you’re the “face of the franchise” it invites a whole new level of scrutiny. Doesn’t matter if it’s fair, it’s reality.

Rather than a cold recitation of the numbers, a look at Ball’s shot chart for the season says a 1,000 words worth.

Ball has admitted frustration but has said throughout he expects things to turn. He reiterated that in an interview on the Mason and Ireland Show on ESPN LA Radio. He likes the looks he’s getting, thinks they will start to go down. (Hat tip Lakers’ Nation.)

“I’m just missing shots. I definitely like the looks I’m getting. Most of them are wide open, people are going under screens. I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting and shooting with confidence.”

Ball is right. He is shooting 28.2 percent on shots where the defender is 4-6 feet away (22.9 percent from three on those), and 21.3 percent when the defender is 6 or more feet away (19.1 percent from three).

Those shots may start to fall — Luke Walton has preached the same thing to Ball, just keep shooting and it will come around. Right now Ball is in his own head about this, maybe guiding the shots rather than just firing away, but the Lakers aren’t going to rebuild his shot mid-season. He should just keep shooting.

Maybe of more concern is that 42.5 percent in the restricted area — if he isn’t a decent scoring threat on drives, it will hamper his entire passing game. He’s a rookie, he needs time to adjust to the speed, length, and physicality of the NBA, it’s far too early to say what he is and isn’t yet. But those finishing numbers are ones to watch.

Kevin Durant says “I plan on playing” against Thunder Wednesday

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After Kevin Durant missed the Warriors’ last game with a sprained ankle, there was some question about whether he would play on his latest return to Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Doubt no more, he will play. Like we all expected.

Durant has a ring now and says he wants to move on from the drama surrounding his departure from Oklahoma City, but you can be sure plenty of Thunder fans don’t feel that way. KD will again have boos rained down on him all game.

This is obviously a very different Thunder team than the one Durant left, with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. While the Thunder have stumbled and blown leads (in six of their nine losses OKC had double-digit leads) this is a team with a lot of potential, as Durant discussed.