Running down the early list of MVP candidates for the Playoffs, Russell Westbrook’s name has to be near the top. No “made up” disputes this year have sullied the run the Thunder have made into the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City’s two stars are sharing the scoring load and taking every advantage of their talents in the first two rounds.
Westbrook is averaging 24.1 points per game and shooting 47.2 percent from the floor. Through nine games he has just 14 turnovers. His PER is an incredible 27.5 and his true shooting percentage is 54.3 percent, incredibly high for a player using better than 30 percent of his team’s possessions.
Westbrook is having a great postseason and is a big reason for his team’s success.
Just don’t tell Tony Parker that. The former NBA Finals MVP and three-time NBA champion is not impressed with what Westbrook has done so far and warned him not to expect the easy road he had in his first two series when the Spurs open up their series with the Thunder this weekend with a trip to the Finals on the line.
Paul J. Weber of the Associated Press reports that Parker said “it’s not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers” for Westbrook. He commented that the Mavericks and Lakers’ point guards are “not as aggressive” as the Spurs’ leading scorer and all-NBA candidate (h/t Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs).
Indeed, Parker’s premise is correct. Westbrook had a huge advantage over the point guards he faced in the first two rounds.
Jason Kidd is more cerebral and cannot keep up with Westbrook’s speed on the defensive end. And Ramon Sessions is a tweener who really struggled to get into the paint against Westbrook and had an extremely disappointing series as Los Angeles quickly bowed out in the second round.
Parker’s numbers have not been quite as gaudy as Westbrook’s, but unlike those two guards, Parker has had a bigger impact for his team. Parker is averaging 19.1 points per game and 7.1 assists per game in the eight games of his postseason. He is shooting just 43.0 percent from the floor, but amazing his true shooting percentage is better than 50 percent at 52.2 percent this postseason. His postseason PER is a solid, but not spectacular 19.8.
It is easier to say, looking at these numbers, that Parker is going to have a tougher time containing Westbrook’s offense.
Still, Parker has had to battle against speedy point guards like Devin Harris and Chris Paul (albeit limited by his injury) thorughout the postseason and has helped break those two down and run the Spurs offense. Like everything San Antonio has done for much of the past 14 seasons, San Antonio is methodically breaking teams down and picking them apart bit by bit.
Parker might need a bigger effort to help the Spurs match the Thunder’s explosive offense. San Antonio better be ready to leave cruise control and punch on the gas.
Westbrook is not going to like being called out by Parker and you have to believe he is going to be ready for their matchup in Game One.
The matchup between Parker, ever probing and looking to get teammates involved, and Westbrook, explosive and able to score in bunches, is going to be one of the key matchups in the series. They may not start games against each other — putting a solid and longer defender like Danny Green on Westbrook to start while having Parker guard Thabo Sefolosha might be the way to go, and vice-versa — but they will likely end against each other.
And whoever finishes best could be playing for a chance at the title.