My second draft analysis is another UCLA player, Russell Westbrook. If interested, my first thread about the draft was about UCLA big man Kevin Love.
Westbrook is another player who opinions will vary about. Westbrook is a very good athlete, who moves and slashes well. He handles the ball well for a 2 guard, and has the athleticism to be an effective finisher in traffic. He isnt particularly great at any one offensive skill, but he knows how to make plays to help you win. He is strong with the ball in traffic, and savvy enough to be able to control his body and get fouled. From the perimeter, he is a decent shooter if given space, with in my view potential to really improve this area of his game to become a real strength eventually.
How much a team/person likes Westbrook probably derives from whether you believe he can eventually become a serviceable NBA point guard. He is listed as a point guard in some draft websites, and played the position occasionally for the Bruins and Ben Howland. He does have the athleticism to play the point, particularly defensively, but in my view offensively in most systems he would be miscast as a traditional lead ballhandling guard. If you are a team like Indiana who covets a starter level point guard, in my opinion you should not be expecting Westbrook to fill that role.....at least in the way Indiana plays offense. It would be interesting to see him play in an offensive system like the triangle, which doesnt use a traditional point guard. If drafted by a team who wanted to play like that, Westbrook could probably fill that type of spot. Outside of the Lakers (and possibly Pheonix next year, as I look for them to play radically different offensively) I don't see a team in the NBA leaning toward playing that way.
Westbrook I believe is a 2 guard, with some emergency backup ballhandling skills. Opinions may vary wildly about that on this board and around the league.
Defensively, Westbrook is well taught, well schooled, and motivated. He plays bigger than he is listed at, contests shots well, is capable of staying in front of most perimeter players, and causing them problems. He can get up in a weaker ballhandlers grill and still remain quick enough to not get beaten often off the dribble. He does really well at avoiding being screened, which means he reads situations well along with being a good defensive communicator and listener. (It also means he has been in a really quality defensive system). To me, most of Westbrooks future depends on his ability to be a defensive stopper off the bench.
Whoever drafts Westbrook will have to decide if they want him to become stronger, or become quicker. That will determine what type of defensive role he will play for the team that gets him. If a team wants a strong point guard defender off the bench, Westbrook can do that now to most of the back up level point guards in the league and some of the starters. Currently I think he would lack the quickness to defend Tony Parker, Chris Paul, or other point guards who rely on their quickness....but most players are going to have that problem anyway.
If you want Westbrook to be able to guard wings, likely he will need to get stronger in order to take the pounding of coming through bone jarring screens night after night for 82 games. Right now he is too thin to handle that as a starter, but could eventually grow in to that type of player someday. I do think he can play right away as a 15 minute, 4th wing, role player defender type off the bench.
So, the questions are:
1. Can he legitimately play the point in the NBA?
I've already answered no, at least on most teams.
2.If he is a wing, will he primarily be used as an offensive player who has defensive skills, or as a defensive player with some offensive punch occasionally?
To me he is more of a defender, but opinions may vary.
3. Which player currently in the league does he remind you of?
I've heard people say Fred Jones, but I don't agree with that at all. Westbrook is alot more of a cerebral player than Fred, and I think has more long term upside.
To me, I see a slightly better version of Raja Bell of Pheonix. If he played in the right system, I could also see an older version of Ron Harper of the Bulls early title teams (not when he was a big scorer for the Clippers in his younger days). The best things about Westbrook are I think his attitude, willingness to defend, proper fundamentals defensively he learned at UCLA, and his attitude. This is all pop psychology now, but I see Westbrook as one of the more rare NBA guys whose game will improve with age, as he settles in to a role somewhere and refines his skills. A big key to Westbrooks future will be landing on the right team, as it is for so many other players similar to him. If he gets lucky he can have a long career playing a key role for a championship level team, if he doesn't he ends up like another player he is similar to, Maurice Ager from Michigan State, who has been buried on the bench his entire career.
As always, the above is just my opinion.