The race for the MVP of scoring has developed into a two man contest. On opening night in the Mile High City, Anthony Davis dropped 50 points, added 16 rebounds and lost. Up next was the powerful but revamped Warriors and Davis added a cool 45 in the home opener in New Orleans.The Spurs weren’t going to be on the wrong end of a Davis scoring binge; he only had 18 points in San Antonio the next night.
Not to be outdone by Davis’ 113 points in three games was Russell Westbrook’s 116 points in three games (76ers, Suns, Lakers).
As expected, without Durant, Westbrook was going to challenge his inner Kobe 2006 and just drop baskets left and right. Shoot until your arm falls off. But that Lakers team in 2006 had Lamar Odom. The Thunder don’t have a player as offensively talented as Odom so it is all on Russ.
On opening night in Philly, Westbrook got a fan ejected and dropped 32 points and in the followup, in overtime, against a young and potent Suns team, he scored 51 points. It was easy scoring 33 points and shooting 52.4% against the Lakers.
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The numbers Davis and Westbrook are putting up are downright sick. But there is a reason. Neither are surrounded by a viable number two option. Russell Westbrook has a starting wing (Andre Roberson) that averages less than 6 points a game. Anthony Davis has on his team Tim Frazier (who?), E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill. You get why Davis has to take 27 shots. But for Davis, there are better days coming. Jrue Holiday will return once his wife is fully recovered from a brain tumor. Tyreke Evans will take a lot of pressure off of Davis with his blow bys and drives to the rim when he returns in December. Let’s hope by then Davis’ arm hasn’t broken off from overuse.
If this first NBA week was a Russell Westbrook movie it would be called, “Welcome to Your New Life.” There is no help coming. He has to work with what he sees to his left or right and it isn’t much. Contrary to prisoner of the moment opinion,Victor Oladipo’s help is negligible. He is shooting 34%. This is the West, not the East. 6-6 shooting guards grow off of trees. So Oladipo is going to have some tough nights trying to guard the Devin Bookers of the world and then scoring to take the pressure off of Russ. There is Klay Thompson. Or, C.J. McCollum. Or, Eric Gordon. Or, Rodney Hood. Oladipo got a break last night with Nick Young but it will get worse when he has to see J.J. Redick and Klay and Andrew Wiggins in the next few games. So Westbrook is on his own. He has to score. And he has to rebound. And he has to get double digit assists. He is the Thunder’s only hope.
But as far as who is going to get 60 first? My money is on Davis. First he is a forward. Even though he drains jumpers, he is closer to the basket. Davis has already been to the line 39 times. He is going to get easy opportunities for two points from the foul line, not to mention offensive rebounds and put backs. He is a matchup nightmare on the block. Just spin, step back, elevate. Or catch and shoot. Or three dribbles, dunk. Kevin Durant is sold.
“It’s hard to defend him. You can’t. His first step is probably the quickest I’ve seen in a while at his position. He’s long. He can shoot it, he can dribble it. He can shoot the 3- so he’s doing just about everything out there on the court.”
Everything but injecting a talent serum into his teammates. They are who they are. It’s not their fault. The team is banged up now but they will get a little bit of help when Evans and Holiday return. Some of those losses will be wins.
Russell Westbrook is averaging 38.4 minutes a game. He had the first 50 point triple double in 41 years. In 1975, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar put up a stunning stat line of 50 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists. Last year, Westbrook put up 49 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists against the 76ers, so he has it in him. Against the Lakers, he had a more modest triple double. 33 points. 16 assists. 12 rebounds. But it is not a strategy that can sustain itself, a triple double every night, not with the level of talent and physicality required at the guard position. Westbrook needs help. And Westbrook is going to get fatigued. He drives to the rim but he also takes a lot of jumpers.
A decade ago, when Kobe Bryant was in Westbrook’s position, on a night of incredibly fatigue, he muttered, “Do I have to score 40 every night for us to win?” The answer was yes. Yes for Kobe 2006. Yes for Westbrook 2016. Yes for Davis 2016
60 Point Possibility, Anthony Davis: November 12th Lakers. (Only size up front is Timofey Mozgov and he is slow and non-athletic and doesn’t like to leave the block. Lakers are not explosive.)
60 Point Possibility, Russell Westbrook: November 13th, Magic. (The combo of Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton isn’t very scary. Plus Oladipo will try too hard versus his old team. Westbrook will be motivated to get the win for Oladipo without much on the Magic to be able to stop him).
photo via llananba