NBA Journey Week Six: The Price of Payback

The start of the 2017-18 NBA season is underway. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and whatever darling team we believe will challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. There is also a feeling surrounding this season that we’re headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we’re going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June.

Song of The Week: 112 – “It’s Over Now”

There was a regular season game on Thursday between two teams we believe are or will be very good. The Golden State Warriors traveled to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder. In a mild upset, the Thunder won rather handily, maintaining a double-figure lead for most of the game.

But that’s not what we want to talk about, is it? The lasting image will be of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook forehead to forehead after Westbrook knocked the ball away from Durant. The brief confrontation is another in the growing list of petty encounters and blatantly subtle jabs at each other since Durant signed with the Warriors. It feels like every messy breakup we have ever seen, even as entertaining as it may be to most of us. Dislike amongst athletes is a healthy part of competition, within reason. It’s okay for former teammates to have some animosity—especially teammates who have been through everything Westbrook and Durant have been through.

Breakups are always messy in public. (Yahoo! Sports)

That’s not what I want to highlight from that game.

In the fourth quarter, with the game already decided and Steve Kerr having pulled his starters, Russell Westbrook was still on the floor. He was one assist shy of notching yet another triple-double. The most important part of an assist is the made basket by the player receiving the pass. No matter how great a pass, it goes without reward if the teammate doesn’t score. Westbrook was experiencing this, as he had the ball in late-clock isolation situations, and the players he was setting up did not score. You can even see Russ frustrated with Steven Adams that he did not shoot immediately after catching the pass from him. The interesting part of this is that it seems Steph Curry and Kevin Durant noticed this from the Warriors’ bench, to their amusement.

There is a fine line where stat chasing is celebrated and where it is admonished. Most celebrated Kobe Bryant’s megalomania-scented farewell tour in his final season, capped by a 50-field-goal-attempt, 60-point performance in his last game. Even with Russ, his glowing historic MVP season last year carries the trivial tarnish of teammates clearing the way for him to get rebounds. And of course, there is that time Ricky Davis threw the ball off the backboard to pad his stats for a triple-double.

We allow players, particularly great ones, the chance to reach milestones, especially in ultimately meaningless games. Usually, everyone is in on the plan, and while there may be a script written in pencil, the spirit of competition remains in tact.

In no way am I saying Russ is Ricky Davis. Nor do I believe he is hurting the game in any way. And I absolutely understand that this is armchair speculation. However, Westbrook’s ability does not need him focused on statistical goals. Even if he wanted to make a statement versus the Warriors, a team he seemingly dislikes, that statement had already been made by his play, the final score, and even knocking the ball away from Kevin Durant. I just don’t want Russell Westbrook to hinder his effectiveness as a player to keep a caricature going.

Scorn looks so interesting in sports.
(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Blurb time!

  • That’s two game-winning jumpers for Blake Griffin. Both of them were on the road, with both of them being relatively contested.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo got into a shouting match with one of the Milwaukee Bucks’ assistant coaches. While the visual looks poor, I’m more concerned with tensions rising so early in the season. With three-fourths of the season remaining, hopefully that was an argument in the heat of the moment and not the start of anything more serious.
  • It’s impressive that as of November 27th, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Durant are the top two leaders in blocks per game. I think it’s admirable when a team’s best offensive player commits to at least one aspect of the defensive end. The look of the rim protector is very different than a generation ago.

Six weeks in and the journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.

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