Russell Westbrook had a NBA single-season record of 42 triple-doubles last season with a not-so-good supporting cast. With the Thunder acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this offseason, he has to be thinking he can break his own record this season.
One has to think that is going to happen this season if Thursday night was any indication. It took his first game of the 2017-2018 season to get his first triple-double of the season in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 105-84 victory over the rebuilding Knicks at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Last season’s NBA MVP was the difference in this game, and he is the type of point guard the Knicks need if they aspire to be an elite team. Kristaps Porzingis (31 points, 12 rebounds and one assist) is a nice complementary piece, but he needs to play with a point guard that will be a facilitator, not to mention making shots, penetrating to the hoop and grabbing offensive boards.
The Knicks played with hustle and grit, but that can only take them far. They need a star player that will be a difference maker to win a game. In the Knicks’ case, think point guard. They don’t have one at the moment. They found out what a guy like Westbrook can do for a team in couple of sequences in the game.
With 2:43 to go in the second quarter, the Thunder finished the quarter on an 11-0 run to take a 53-42 lead over the Knicks. In that run, it was Westbrook that ignited the run by getting two assists, grabbing a defensive rebound and making two free throws.
When the Thunder outscored the Knicks 26-17 in the third quarter, it was Westbrook making plays on the defensive end along with making shots and setting up George, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson to get assists.
This is why Oklahoma City is a NBA contender while the Knicks are starting in ground zero altogether. Until the Knicks get a player of Westbrook’s stature, they are going to have more games like this against elite teams.
Ramon Sessions (three points with a minus-23 rating), Ron Baker (six points) and Frank Ntilikina (zero points in eight minutes) played point guard for the Knicks, and they offered nothing. This is what they are, so the Knicks have to get used to it.
Sessions is nothing more than a placeholder for Ntilikina, and Baker is a bench player at best. Eventually, Ntilikina will have to be the starting point guard as he gets better at practice and learning the game.
The question is whether or not Ntilikina can be like Westbrook. That’s a tough task for anyone. He could be a serviceable player at best if he develops nicely. It’s hard to believe Knicks general manager Scott Perry would have drafted him had he took the job as general manager. The rookie point guard was only drafted because then-Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson thought he could develop by learning the triangle offense.
In other words, this year’s Knicks draft pick was a reach at best.
The Knicks are likely going to have to find a point guard who can do what Westbrook does in next year’s draft at this point. It would have been interesting if Jackson drafted Dennis Smith Jr., who comes as close to being like Westbrook, but it was apparently important to find someone that can play the antiquated triangle offense. Oh, and Smith had 15 points and 10 assists in his NBA debut for the Mavericks on Wednesday night.
The Knicks thought Carmelo Anthony would have been what Westbrook has meant to the Thunder when they acquired him in 2011. He was a bust overall. He never won, and the Knicks missed the playoffs. He never led, and he never played defense. He also shot airballs in big spots. He became more a problem than a solution in the end, and that’s why he was traded to the Thunder.
There will be no pressure for Anthony in Oklahoma City. He’s more than happy to play second fiddle to last year’s MVP. It’s a wise decision on his part since the Thunder point guard is more than capable of leading the Thunder as the go-to guy unlike him.
All the Knicks can do is envy the Thunder for having a star that can do it all in Westbrook.
Maybe one day they will get their Westbrook.