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.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.