Russell Westbrook the next Kobe? insider

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Russell Westbrook the next Kobe? insider

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Russell Westbrook the next Kobe?
OKC's point guard has many of the same qualities as the Lakers' leading man
Originally Published: March 5, 2013
By David Thorpe | Scouts Inc.


A Mismatch On Every Play
Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook both have the tools to beat their man every single time down the court. The challenge: Knowing when not to.

Kobe: "I Would Have Smacked Ibaka"

There really hasn't been a star like Kobe Bryant, who has had both a huge following of supporters and a long line of haters.

Winning two titles without Shaquille O'Neal has helped put his legacy in a positive light, but questions about his willingness to be a consistent "team guy" still exist. He makes it more challenging for his doubters when he decides to be a passer and then does so extraordinarily well. His zeal to win and fully compete shape him into a single-minded scorer all too often, making him a hard guy to feel warm and fuzzy about.

In Oklahoma City, there is now another all-NBA-caliber player who boils the blood of his detractors with his rambunctious actions, facial expressions and decision-making, while inspiring his teammates and fans with his lust for winning: Russell Westbrook.

Is Westbrook the next Kobe Bryant, a lethal scoring machine who can help carry a team to titles while still infuriating the masses? The similarities between the two are striking.

Power guards

Bryant and Westbrook can both dominate opponents physically. As an athlete in his prime, Kobe had it all -- the incredibly rare combination of length, elite athleticism in terms of quickness and bounce, and the power to play through defenders and not just around them. The only other shooting guards to ever have that combination, at Kobe's size, were Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler. (Walter Davis lacked power, as did Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter. Dwyane Wade is significantly smaller.)

Westbrook is even rarer. He ranks as the most athletic point guard we have ever seen. His overall combination of physical skills gives him a bigger advantage in that aspect of the game than any point guard has ever enjoyed. But it comes at a price, as we have seen for years with Kobe.

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For lack of a better word, both men are often "bullies" in games, just like Shaq and Charles Barkley and pretty much every great big man who featured a dominant physical game. Coaches demand that players with physical advantages use them as often as possible. So powerful players develop a mindset to dominate and relentlessly attack opponents. This can lead to the player becoming single-minded in his effort to overmatch the opponent.

The issue with Kobe and Westbrook is that they are guards and have the ball in their hands all the time. There's a saying, "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail." That applies perfectly to Kobe and Westbrook. They are almost always being defended by men who simply cannot match up with them physically. Some might be strong enough but lack the quickness. Others might be quicker but slighter. And almost all of them are shorter.

Kobe and Westbrook, therefore, do what any big man would do -- they look to exploit that disparity of physical talent against their defender and most help defenders, as well. This is where their games most parallel each other and where they draw the most criticism: Because of their physical advantages, they take more bad shots than they should since they can get them off and make enough to continue to believe that they are good shots.

Intense competitors

Both Kobe and Westbrook have a complete offensive game to match their physical prowess. They also have the necessary IQ to read the game. Kobe, to most experts' eyes, can be like a coach on the floor. His pedigree, playing for the best NBA coach in history (Phil Jackson) for so many seasons, gives him an understanding of the game few have. So when Kobe has launched one long contested jumper after another during his career, playing with men who were capable of scoring and were open, it was seen as Kobe ignoring what he knew to be the right play and instead focusing on his own matchup advantage.

To Westbrook, every defender looks like a "mark," and he goes about taking the mark down almost every chance he gets. When he does so while Kevin Durant is waiting patiently in the wings, and Westbrook misses shot after shot, that is when his decision-making is criticized.

Unlike Kobe, we are not yet sure Westbrook understands all of the mistakes he is making. No one is ready to proclaim him as one of the smartest guards in the league.
[+] EnlargeWestbrook
Harry How/Getty ImagesWestbrook, like Kobe, often settles for tough jump shots.

Ironically, the same incredible driving force that compels both men to churn out bad possessions also can serve as their guiding light. Kobe has been considered the most competitive player in the league for years. Chris Paul is in that same league, and Westbrook is quickly getting there. The true competitor wants to prepare to win just as much as he wants to win, because he understands how more of the former leads to more of the latter.

Kobe, following in the footsteps of guys such as Jordan, Magic and Bird, was always able to add skills to his game. And we are seeing that same pattern in Westbrook. He can "hammer" opponents with his jump shot now better than he ever could, which often leads to his problems.

Westbrook has a favorite move, in which he rises up to shoot a jumper just as he appears to be ready to drive hard to the rim, and he can hang on to the ball and change the timing of his release to ensure he can get it off. It's a hard shot to contest, but it is also a hard shot to make. Westbrook has taken 471 2-point shots between five feet and the 3-point line and has made just 171 of them (36.3 percent). Of those shots, 355 of them were from 10 to 19 feet, most of which were the pull-up jumpers off the dribble that he loves. But he has made only 135 of them (38 percent).

It's not as if Westbrook is a ball hog who leaves Durant to fend for himself. Westbrook has assisted on 163 of Durant's made field goals and has found Serge Ibaka for buckets 130 times. Those are significant numbers when considering that missed shots and fouls are not counted. So we know that he values his role as the lead ball handler and understands his teammates can't be expected to play well if they are not involved in the offense. He just doesn't seem to do it often enough.

But there is every reason to believe that another postseason failure will compel him to reconsider his strategies.

Can Westbrook have Kobe's success?

The Thunder have one of the best offenses in the league in recent seasons. Still, there is room for improvement if and when their starting point guard recognizes that he and his team would be better off if he turned down just a few of those tough jumpers and attacked the rim or moved the ball to an open teammate instead. Critics of Kobe and the Lakers also recognize that line of thinking.

Ultimately, Kobe has been able to get away with a lot of his bad habits because his teams have won five titles and he never played with another top wing scorer. Westbrook hasn't won anything at this level yet and plays alongside the league's best wing scorer, which is why some thought the Thunder should have kept James Harden and traded Westbrook.

There is a fine line between employing Westbrook like a sledgehammer while still running a beautiful offense; the Thunder don't want to curb Westbrook and therefore hurt the team, or let him do too much and render the offense less effective. It begins and ends with Westbrook's willingness to play with that edge yet not take as many of those tough jump shots. If he does that, he can quiet his critics, just as Kobe has.


David Thorpe


Moon River
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Answer To the Question


Zaratuk's picture
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''They also have the

''They also have the necessary IQ to read the game''. Meh as a Thunder fan i can't say that of Westbrook. (See Tony Parker game-winner ealier this season lool)

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I don't understand why he

I don't understand why he would leave Dwayne Wade out of consideration for being too small when he's just as tall as Westbrook and has a longer wingspan. And the article states that arguably the best in game dunker ever (Vince Carter) lacked power

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Bout the only comparison

They both have questionable (at best) shot selection. That's about the only comparison I can make between them. Why was this article written? Haha
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Yah this article has

Yah this article has inconsistencies and weird statements.

I can see some similarities in their elite athleticism at their position. They are also very intense competitors and really durable players. They are both winners who rub people the wrong way, but that weird loner attitude might be the very thing that makes them great.

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the closest thing to kobe

the closest thing to kobe right now is james harden. westbrook is closer to wade or iverson or the newer drose. i see what the article is saying about how kobe and westbrook run offenses but no-just no.

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This is what you pay for ESPN

This is what you pay for ESPN Insider? Articles like these?

Mr. 19134
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I don't know what to say

I don't know what to say about this article but the most interesting part of it certainly to me is saying Kobe is/was one of the most powerful SG's to play the game. Kobe during his physical peak use to be more of a quick sleek svelte SG who used his speed and length to get his shots off. Yes he had post moves but usually it was his footwork not his strength that got him the open shots. Vince Carter in my mind played with much more power as he'd hop into the lane, gather himself, and then just launch himself into the air at any and every defender in his way. Also when talking about power Dominque Wilkins should of def been mentioned.

The whole argument made for Westbrook could just as easily, if not more accurately be applied to Derrick Rose too.

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How do some of these guys

How do some of these guys with ESPN have jobs?

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Damn, these insider articles

Damn, these insider articles have really good tittles and hooks but the articles themselves are crap, I could easily write something better than this and I'm not exaggerating.

i'm jus so offended
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I wish I could give a neg to

I wish I could give a neg to the dude who wrote this.

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