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News » Westbrook's honor gives dismal Thunder bright spot

Westbrook's honor gives dismal Thunder bright spot

Westbrook's honor gives dismal Thunder bright spot
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook didn't know there was such a thing as a rookie of the month award in the NBA - until he won it.

"I think it's good," Westbrook said of receiving the Western Conference honor for December, "but at the same time, we're trying to continue to win and continue to work hard."

Wins have been hard to come by this season for Oklahoma City, which is 4-30 entering Tuesday's game against the New York Knicks - so any positive recognition is a good thing.

What would be even better, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, would be for Westbrook to maintain the level of play that won him the award.

"With Russell, I think he has to continue to improve, continue to study the game, and he has," Brooks said. "He's improving every week. That's a good sign. Most rookies who work hard and are diligent in their efforts, by the end of the season you're going to see an improvement across the board, throughout the season, month to month."

Westbrook started all 15 games last month, averaging 15.5 points, 5.1 assists and 5.5 rebounds. He twice set a career high in points, scoring 30 at Miami on Dec. 6 and 31 against Phoenix on Dec. 29. He also had 11 assists against Cleveland on Dec. 21.

Among rookies, Westbrook ranked third in scoring, second in assists and sixth in rebounding in December. For the season, he's averaging 13.7 points, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals - though he's yet to break into potential rookie of the year talk with Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose and Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo.

When the former Seattle SuperSonics selected Westbrook with the No. 4 overall pick in last year's NBA draft, skeptics wondered if the 6-foot-3, 187-pound UCLA standout would develop into a consistent pro point guard.

At times this season the 20-year-old has played out of control - twice committing six turnovers in a game. But he's also shown the skills that resulted in Pac-10 defensive player of the year honors last season.

Westbrook, who started the season as a reserve behind Earl Watson, now is a fixture in the Thunder's starting lineup, and he's navigated a coaching change after P.J. Carlesimo was fired following a 1-12 start and Brooks became the interim coach.

He's also a candidate to be the lone rookie representative in this season's dunk contest during All-Star weekend. Fans will choose from among Westbrook, Joe Alexander of the Milwaukee Bucks and Rudy Fernandez of the Portland Trail Blazers for the final spot in the four-man field.

"He's been pretty solid," Thunder forward Desmond Mason said. "It takes time to learn the league. There are a lot of different players you have to guard, a lot of different schemes people are going to throw at you."

One sequence in Friday's 122-120 loss to the Denver Nuggets neatly encapsulated Westbrook's season thus far. With the Thunder up by eight in the third quarter, Westbrook dashed down the court and threw up an ill-advised 3-point attempt early on the shot clock. He missed, and Brooks clasped his hands behind his head in frustration.

On Oklahoma City's next possession, with the shot clock down to 1 second, Westbrook saved the Thunder by making a 9-foot fadeaway jumper.

"If the shot clock is going down, sometimes you have to create," Westbrook said. "But basically, you take what they give you and try not to make the game too hard."

Denver coach George Karl is among those who think Westbrook will succeed in the NBA. The veteran coach describes him as "big and long" and "fast" with "huge strides."

"He looks like a sprinter on the court," Karl said. "He's very impressive athletically. ... If you give him space and let him be an athlete, he's very, very good."

Westbrook said Brooks, himself a former NBA guard, often will offer pointers when they watch film. Westbrook said he's becoming more comfortable with the speed of the NBA with each game, something Brooks has noticed.

"Just playing against guys and understanding who you're playing against will help you," Brooks said. "You learn from every game. If you're a player who wants to get better, you learn from every game. Wins or losses, you learn, and Russell wants to get better."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: January 5, 2009


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