Western Conference Finals Preview: Parker vs. Westbrook


Feb 26, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Western Conference guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder (0), Tony parker of the San Antonio Spurs talk to Eastern Conference guard Rajon Rondo (9) of the Boston Celtics in the second quarter at the 2012 NBA All-Star Game at the Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

In a Western Conference Finals that many claim is the quasi-NBA Finals, the matchup between Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook is, I believe, the most exciting compelling battle to watch.

Westbrook’s freakish athleticism and Parker’s controlled quickness make this, at the very least, one of the most important matchups in the Western Conference Finals. The reason being, of course, is that Parker and Westbrook are tasked with handling the ball extensively, both are first in usage rates for their respective teams.

While Westbrook is victimized for his poor shot selection and tendency to forgo all semblance of conventional offense in lieu of isolations, it’s Parker, who is lauded for the vast improvements in his midrange game, that takes just as many long 2-pointers as Westbrook albeit at a lower rate. Westbrook converted 43% of shots from 16-23 feet compared to 39% for Parker.

So, really, the perception that Westbrook is a detriment to the Thunder offense is completely misguided. Yes, he takes a ton of long 2-pointers, widely known as the most inefficient shot in basketball because of it’s distance from the hoop and relative lack of reward. Westbrook’s developing midrange game, however, gives the Thunder another legitimate offensive weapon. Westbrook isn’t the kind of point guard to convert on 3-pointers with any consistency — he’s shooting 31.8% on 3-pointers, though — so his ability to convert on every spot on the floor, ignoring efficiency, is something that many detractors fail to realize. Westbrook’s midrange game is an asset even though, admittedly, he tends to overuse that asset.

As for his excessive isolations? Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City as a whole, are guilty of relying on their surplus athleticism to create mismatches on the perimeter. The beauty of the Thunder offense, and their downfall, is that they don’t need any ball movement, misdirections or cohesive offensive scheme to eviscerate their opponents.

Oklahoma City scored 109.8 points per 100 possessions despite deploying isolations 13.1% of the time. For all the acclaim of the Spurs’ beautiful offense — and it is beautiful, I can attest to that — Oklahoma City’s offense is actually quite comparable to the San Antonio offense. It’s simple: Let Durant, Harden and Westbrook dominate every possession until the opposition is weakened, emaciated and unable to defend themselves from the consistent bludgeoning or, in basketball terms, attempts at the rim.

Westbrook is at the head of that relentless attack. Westbrook took 5.1 attempts at the rim, which led the team. And, although isolations generally average less points per possession than just about any other possession type, Westbrook is one of the best players at scoring even with the defense focusing intently on his every move. Westbrook’s 0.91 PPP on isolations is 27th in the entire league.

Interestingly enough, Parker and Westbrook are locked in a dead tie with an overall PPP of 0.93. Parker and Westbrook are both expected to run the pick-and-roll effectively, create in transition and utilize their elite speed to terrorize the defense. And, for all intents and purposes, they are pretty similar in their usage and effectiveness. They are used slightly differently — Westbrook gets more isolations and post-ups while Parker is utilized more in pick-and-rolls (46.9%) and screens away from the ball, a staple of the Spurs “Motion” Weak offense.

Judging by the regular season matchup, San Antonio won the three-game season series, Parker is victorious by a slight margin. Parker averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 assists per game in three games against Oklahoma City. Those numbers jump to 33.5 points and 8.5 assists (he also shot 51% from the field) in Spurs victories. More indicative of Parker’s dominance is his +25 in 77:46 minutes.

It’s pretty close.

If anything, at least we will be treated to blinding bouts of speed and one-man transition opportunities. That should be fun.