Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook: Clones in the Mold of a Shooting Guard

Rich FernandesCorrespondent IMay 25, 2011

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 05:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the UCLA Bruins drives against Derrick Rose #23 of the Memphis Tigers in the second half during the National Semifinal game of the NCAA Men's Final Four at the Alamodome on April 5, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder are officially on life support in each of their respective conference finals, and the biggest single flaw in each of their games has been exposed. 

If you look closely, you can see it for yourself, and the problem is so glaring that you don’t even have to look that hard, before realizing that this flaw is identical on both the Bulls and the Thunder.

Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are essentially shooting guards playing at the point guard position, a problem that leaves both their ships rudderless on offense and without a captain.  This problem is so pronounced that it has literally caused each of their teams to be driven into a 3-1 hole against the Heat and the Mavs and in a death grip that will unlikely see them advance any further.

That’s right—they are shooting guards playing out of position at the point and sticking out like sore thumbs.

In fact, if each played for the other’s team instead of their own, the playoff outcomes would be identical to their present situations because these guys are practically clones of each other. 

Both players are superstars at the young age of 22 years old, both are the same height at 6'3", and they are two of the most explosively athletic individuals in the NBA

But the unfavorable similarity is that both players are shooting guards playing out of position at the point and as a result, are hurting their team’s title chances.

All the talk of Rose or Westbrook being a couple of the best point guards in the league is utter nonsense, because they simply do not share any of the important responsibilities of that position.

They are indeed, two of the most explosive scorers in the league, and there is a major difference.

A point guard that shoots first and asks questions later is, for all intents and purposes, a contradiction in terms.

An NBA point guard’s responsibilities resemble that of an NFL quarterback. He is the one who runs the offense because he is the team’s offensive facilitator.  Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, for example, does not focus on scoring by running the ball himself for a TD, because he is not the scorer. He passes or hands the ball off and by doing so, assists in the score.

And when speaking of an NFL or an NBA pivot, “assists” are the primary responsibility—it is key. 

Some might argue that Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles can run the ball with the best of them, but Vick is truly the exception to the rule.  He has the physical and athletic attributes of a quarterback and a running back, making him extremely effective at both passing and running.

But Vick does not run more than he passes—unlike both Rose and Westbrook. 

In fact, you could say that Vick’s NBA counterparts are Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Chris Paul—an exclusive group of “pure” point guards with offensive games.

Like Vick, the pure point guard has an insane ability to keep opposing defenses off balance, simply by keeping them guessing.  Will he drive, or will he pass? 

And before you know it, they are out of position and off balance.  Advantage: offense.  

A true point guard is no different, where the pass first, shoot second philosophy is ingrained within his psyche.

Consider that in their sole wins in the third round, Westbrook shot 46.7 percent from the field against the Mavs (7-of-15) including only four assists.  Likewise, Rose shot 45.5 percent (10-of-22) with six assists.

Neither Rose nor Westbrook had a Chris Paul like pure point guard performance in their only wins, and it’s safe to say, that each of their three losses were even less like CP3.

Westbrook’s field-goal percentages in those losses were .200 (3-of-15), .400 (8-of-20), and .318 (7-of-22) with only 15 combined assists.  Rose’s field goal percentages in Chicago’s losses to the Heat were .304 (7-of-23), .421 (8-of-19), and .334 (8-of-27) with only 19 combined assists.

Not exactly superstar like games and again, certainly not like a point guard aka, CP3.  They both shoot way too much for their teams good, leaving their teammates uninvolved, and this is beyond the character of a point guard.

The defines the point guard as “the position of the player responsible for directing the team's attacking play.”

Conversely and within the context of the above definition, both Rose’s and Westbrook’s shoot first mentality goes against the grain of a true point guard.  It reduces each of their teams to a rudderless ship with no captain to boot, a bunch of deer caught in the headlights. 

By contrast, notice that Paul, Nash and Williams can score with impunity and often lead their respective teams in scoring (like Rose and Westbrook).  But the major difference between these players is that, while they all can shoot, their main purpose is to facilitate the offense.

These guys are without question, better point guards than Rose and Westbrook, because they all can create off the dribble by passing, scoring or both and within the definition of a point guard.

That also means that they make everyone else around them that much better—because that’s what they do.

You can’t deny that Rose and Westbrook are superstar talents and among the top 10 players in the league today.  You also can’t deny that they have the uncanny ability of becoming too predictable, when they force their offensive games. 

It is simply counterproductive to not involve your teammates, especially if you’re a point guard.

The one man show featuring a constant barrage on the rim isn’t exactly putting the Mavs or the Heat’s defenses on alert for a surprise attack.  More times than not, they know exactly what’s coming at them.

In fact, both these opposing defenses are doubly effective against the Bulls and the Thunder, especially when they run double teams on Rose and Westbrook.  Objective number one is to force these so called point guards off balance, because the predictable response will be low percentage shots.

And it’s working like clockwork.

In the same situations, CP3 would counter the double team by passing the ball to the open man.  This in turn, would give his team the edge by putting the opposing defense off balance instead.   

And this is not rocket science. A point guard should facilitate the offense, not become a one man offensive weapon. 

This brings us back to the shooting guard enigma of Rose and Westbrook.  

While both Rose and Westbrook (at 6'3") are considered short to play that spot, they would not be the exception to the rule.  Dwyane Wade is only 6'4", and Allen Iverson was an inflated 6-feet.

There was a reason that Iverson was moved from the point to shooting guard, because despite his diminutive size, he was an extremely athletic and unstoppable slasher.

What Iverson couldn’t do very well is create for anyone but himself.

Sound familiar?

Chris Paul, on the other hand, has never shied away from taking over the offense when his team needs him, and he has done just that on many occasions, by literally putting his team on his back.

A clear example of this was in the first round of the playoffs in which Paul carried his team to two wins against the L.A. Lakers.  David West was out of the lineup due to injury, yet Paul grabbed rebounds like he was a dominant center, dished out assists like it was nobody’s business (in double digits of course) and single-handedly increased the potential limits of his talent deficient teammates.

But it’s the last accomplishment that makes CP3 great.  Rebounds and scoring is just the gravy on his incredible game.

This season is history for both the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Next season, however, these talented superstars should be moved to their natural positions—shooting guard.

And within the definition of a shooting guard, Rose and Westbrook along with Dwyane Wade would be among the top three in the league.

Adding true point guards to their respective teams, the Bulls and Thunder would get the badly needed rudders for their ships and truly be able to make it to the NBA finals.


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