Missing Kobe? He hits a game-winner over James Harden [video]

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What to do with Russell Westbrook?

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant (L) and Russell Westbrook react during Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball playoff against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Texas May 25, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been waiting to write this piece for the last couple of weeks. With the way that the Thunder had been closing games, I knew it was just a matter of time before they’d be eliminated from the Playoffs and I have been thinking about the different directions that the franchise can go from here.

After watching both the Memphis and Dallas series, I have come to this conclusion: Oklahoma City can not win a title with Russell Westbrook at the point.

It’s not that he’s not a good player. He is. He’s just not a point guard. People say that he has come a long way in his three seasons, but he sure didn’t show it in the last two series. Take a look at his numbers in the fourth quarter (and overtime) of all the games against Dallas and Memphis:

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Just how good is James Harden?

Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (L) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo (R) in the second half of Game 2 of their second round Western Conference NBA basketball playoffs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

When the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted James Harden #3 overall in the 2009 draft, it was a sign that the team had confidence in Russell Westbrook as their point guard of the future. After all, the 2009 draft was loaded with point guards (Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison, to name a few), but the Thunder elected to go with a shooting guard instead.

After the 2009-10 season, while Tyreke Evans was winning Rookie of the Year, and while Jennings, Curry, Collison and Taj Gibson were joining Evans on the All-Rookie First Team, Harden was something of a disappointment. He was an important player in the Thunder rotation, but he came off the bench and could only muster an All-Rookie Second Team nod. It was a solid if unspectacular rookie season.

Now, with the Thunder in the Western Conference Playoffs, Harden is playing 31+ minutes off the OKC bench and is often closing out games. He’s like Manu Ginobili — he’s not a starter, but he’s a closer, and that’s what matters.

It got me wondering — how does Harden’s playoff performance (12-5-4 on 46% shooting) stack up with other guards his age (21)?

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Durant: Bosh is a “fake tough guy”

Kevin Durant had something to say about Chris Bosh after the Thunder’s 108-103 loss to the Heat yesterday. He was none too pleased about Bosh barking after fouling James Harden on a fast break early in the first quarter. There’s video over at DailyThunder, but it’s hard to see what the two are saying to each other.

The two were hit with double-technical fouls in the first quarter after Bosh fouled Harden on a fast break. KD said something to Harden and Bosh jumped in. The two had words and it was over. Until Durant was asked about it in the locker room.

Durant said, “I was talking to my teammate and [Bosh] decided he wanted to put his two cents into it. I am quiet guy, laid back guy, but I’m not going to let nobody talk trash to me. He’s on a good team now so he thinks he can talk a little bit. There are a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he’s one of them.”

And more: “I’m no punk. I wasn’t even talking to him first off. He decided to butt in and I’m not going to just let that slide. Especially in our house. Like I said, he’s not one of those guys I look at and say he has a rap for talking back to guys or getting into it. He’s a nice guy. I’m not going to let that type of person say something to me like that.”

It’s not like Durant to get into a war of words with anyone. He’s one of the most affable players in the league. In fact, in another three or four years, if Durant doesn’t break through and win a championship, people are going to start to say that he’s “too nice,” a la David Robinson.

I don’t know why Bosh is picking fights with Durant and Harden. He clearly doesn’t have much of a rep around the league for being a tough guy, so maybe he should be quiet and let his game to the talking.

2009 NBA Preview: Impact Rookies

Every year, first-year players greatly impact the NBA regular season. They tend to thrive on bad teams for two reasons: 1) the best players generally go early in the draft to struggling franchises, and 2) those teams need their services so they play heavy minutes. In fact, over the last three years, the players that made the All-Rookie First Team played an average of 29.0 minutes per game. Playing time is opportunity, and with opportunity comes production.

Over that span, players that were named to the All-Rookie First Team played on teams with a combined 500-730 (.407) record. Only four players — Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa on the 2006-07 Raptors, Luis Scola on the 2007-08 Rockets and Michael Beasley on the 2008-09 Heat — played on teams with a winning record. The other 11 players were on teams that averaged 25 wins.

Looking ahead to the 2009-10 NBA season, there are a number of rookies that will get big minutes on bad teams. I’m going to rank them in order of what I perceive to be their talent plus their opportunity, because a rookie needs both to succeed in his first year. Fantasy hoopsters should take note: Rookies can be great picks on draft day, if you know which ones to pick.

1. Blake Griffin, Clippers
In the preseason, Griffin is averaging 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game. The Clippers found a taker for Zach Randolph to clear the way for Griffin to start at power forward, and he should be a fixture there for the next few years. I expect he’ll get 33-35 minutes per game during the regular season, so 16-17 points and 9+ rebounds are a reasonable expectation. From a fantasy perspective, he’s currently PF19 off the board, but will likely finish as the PF11 or better if he stays healthy. 10/27 Update: He didn’t stay healthy. Griffin will miss six weeks with a stress fracture in his knee.

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