The NBA Playoffs, as usual, have been full of enchanting storylines beyond the simple race for the championship. The death of the Orlando Magic, the fall of the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, the rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the revival of the Dallas Mavericks, the WTFdom of the Memphis Grizzlies. It's been as riveting a postseason as any in memory, once you excuse the absence of our favorite team.
But the Sacramento Kings are in the NBA Playoffs, as they are in all things, like all things. I see DeMarcus Cousins in my waffles, and I see Tyreke Evans in Russell Westbrook. The vogue comparison is Derrick Rose; the hopeful, starry-eyed comparison is Derrick Rose. But I see Tyreke Evans in Russell Westbrook.
Not in stylistic flourish; 'Reke is certainly more Rose than Russ there, with an impossible first step and more strength than length once in the lane. (Stylistically, Rose is actually a combo of the two we discuss; he's strong like Evans, a flyer like Russ.) In athleticism, Evans is no match for Westbrook, who is truly one of a kind. But Evans makes up for that with superior handle (especially around the rim), strength and size.
What I'm talking about when I talk about Evans as Westbrook or Westbrook as Evans is the perception of greed, our own subjective ideas of what it means to be a point guard, and players being players.
Russ has had a rough postseason, rep-wise. Though he's been the second most important factor in OKC's rise, he's taken huge knocks to his reputation as a point guard. The jokes about Westbrook taking all of Kevin Durant's shots have vacillated between funny and worthy of sighs; but there is no question they have been plentiful. With rare critical refutation, Westbrook has taken on a whole heap of "selfish" in his classification by the masses. He's a selfish, shot-happy combo guard who isn't smart enough to know how good his buddy Durant is. Or worse, a kid who knows how good Durant is but refuses to defer.
This line of thought is, of course, complete bulls--t.
From, in my opinion, the best takedown of the overriding narrative on 'Reke: Kevin Pelton's story on Westbrook after he scored 40 in triple-OT in Game 4 against the Grizzlies --
Did Westbrook take some bad shots? Yes, but he also again spent plenty of time playing against the shot clock with Durant under the watchful eye of Shane Battier, in position to contest passes. While getting the ball to Durant in position to score is obviously optimal strategy for Oklahoma City, part of the issue is that there's another team out there that is well aware of this fact.
Westbrook is taking heat, basically, because instead of forcing it to Durant in difficult (if not impossible, in some cases) positions and methods, he is taking shots. He can do the "point guard thing" and set up teammates the opposing defense is guarding closely, or he can take the shot. He's taking the shots. Many of them are falling.
This is the constant reality of 'Reke: he's criticized for taking shots (even though he makes a good share of them) instead of getting the ball to his often inferior teammates. His wings can't shoot, so he shoots himself. His big men can't handle drop-off passes, so he puts up a contested lay-up. The offense doesn't move, so he creates himself.
Think about the worst play Evans makes 3-4 times a game: the offense stagnates, everyone stands around, Evans goes for a jab step and, depending on the defense, he rocks and fires or drives into triple-coverage. This is the worst play, and it happens every game, maybe every quarter. And it's Evans' fault.
But rewind the tape. Go back to the start. Go back to the "stagnant offense." No one moves! The Kings have a good curl play run for Beno Udrih and Francisco Garcia, but it rarely comes up unless the team's coming out of a time-out. Remember overtime in the final game of the season: Marcus Thornton couldn't get free at all. Part of it was surely exhaustion, part of it was good defensive coverage by the Lakers. But Tyreke got dinged for not getting the ball to Thornton when ... it was impossible to get the ball to Thornton.
The Kings' offense is basically "create something, Tyreke." There are some good plays in the Kings' sets, and in fairness to Paul Westphal, "create something, Star Perimeter Player" is a big part of most NBA offenses. But this is what causes so much of Evans' image problems on the court. This is what makes fans groan at Reke's "selfishness."
This is what vexes Westbrook today: few consider his job -- create offense -- and his conditions -- other teams are spending all of their available resources trying to stop KD. Brother's gotta shoot, unless you want him to set up Kendrick Perkins in the post, or watch Serge Ibaka face up from 15. Westbrook has got to be the bad guy, that's his job.
That's Tyreke Evans' job, too. Keep that in mind the next time he rocks for an errant 18-footer.