By Chris Mannix
March 09, 2009

Not much movement at the top of the rankings this week, so let's instead use this space to take a closer look at one of the more intriguing young talents in the NBA: Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook.

Here's what we know about Westbrook: He's a freakish athlete with explosive scoring ability (15.8 points per game) and the kind of defensive mentality that may eventually earn him a spot on one of the league's All-Defense teams. He's also a big reason why the Thunder just completed a 3-1 week (despite the absences of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green) and are 13-17 since Jan. 6.

Here's what we don't know about Westbrook: At what position is he best suited?

Is it point guard? At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Westbrook has the potential to be a bullying playmaker. He's got a strong first step, and though he won't be confused with Steve Nash anytime soon, the Thunder feel his drive-and-kick skills create enough opportunities for teammates. His jump shot is suspect, but Oklahoma City is convinced that it will develop in time.

But Westbrook's assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55 to 1) is abysmal and his shoot-first mind-set has some NBA scouts thinking that he's a better fit at shooting guard.

The Thunder plan to be patient and allow Westbrook, 20, time to develop at the point alongside Durant, 20, and the 22-year-old Green. But with two first-round picks in the June draft, it's also unlikely Oklahoma City will pass on a highly rated point guard (Ricky Rubio?) just because Westbrook is on the roster.

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 1
Reigning scoring champ LeBron James will probably relinquish that title to Dwyane Wade this season, but he sounds more than happy to be sharing the scoring wealth with Mo Williams. "It might surprise you guys [in the media] sometimes because you're not used to having two guys that can put up those types of numbers," James told reporters. "It's been a while since [Mark] Price and [Brad] Daugherty [starred in Cleveland]. It's kind of fun to have a guy who we can give the ball to and he can make things happen."
2 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
What's going on with Lamar Odom? After a terrific February (16.5 points, 13.4 rebounds) in the wake of Andrew Bynum's injury, Odom has come crashing back to earth, with more fouls (12) than points (eight) in the last three games. Phil Jackson reportedly approached Odom at halftime of Friday's victory against Minnesota to see if the power forward was OK. Jackson told reporters after the game that he was concerned about Odom's tendency for "sessions of doubt or doldrums."
3 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
A Western Conference scout on their acquisition of forward Drew Gooden: "He's a legitimate low-post scorer who has the skill set to single-handedly keep you in games. If you look at who San Antonio has playing next to Tim Duncan -- Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas -- none of those guys are the type of players you want to give it to on the post. So Gooden helps there. The downside is if he isn't shooting well, Gooden is the type of player who will keep shooting and sometimes shoot you out of games."
4 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
Don't put too much stock in their home loss to Orlando on Sunday, not when Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine watched the game in street clothes and Glen Davis joined them after spraining his ankle in the third quarter. Reports out of Boston have Garnett a week away from practicing, but I keep hearing it could be longer. Boston is determined not to rush KG back, even with home-court advantage at stake.
5 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 5
Orlando Magic (46-16)
Orlando as the No. 1 seed in the East? It could happen. The Magic are three games out of the top spot and have a cushy March schedule with games against Chicago and Washington and home-and-home matchups with New York and Milwaukee. They also get two more cracks at Cleveland and one more at Boston before the end of the season. And here's a scary thought for teams planning on employing the Hack-A-Dwight strategy on Dwight Howard: He is 18-20 from the free-throw line in the last two games.
6 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6
Dikembe Mutombo has had just about enough of Yao Ming's trying to take charges. After Yao was called for a blocking foul in a recent game, Mutombo told reporters that the All-Star center "has to learn that he's too big to think he's going to get those calls. Maybe if he gets more going against him, he'll stop it." Yao's response: "Tell Deke it takes skills to move your feet." That's what qualifies as controversy these days in Houston, which ran its home winning streak to 12 with three more victories.
7 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 8
Utah Jazz (40-23)
Could it be? Could this be the year Jerry Sloan wins the Coach of the Year award that eluded him his first 20 seasons in Utah? Sloan was recognized for the Jazz's 10-1 February with Coach of the Month honors, the 10th time he has claimed that award. It will be difficult to ignore Sloan, who has had to deal with a variety of injuries to his best players, if the Jazz keep up their current pace. Utah's 11-game winning streak is its longest since 1999.
8 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 9
They have won seven in a row since center Tyson Chandler returned to the lineup. Chandler, whose trade to the Thunder was rescinded after he failed a physical, has averaged 11.0 points and 10.9 rebounds during the winning streak. "It's hard for us to figure out," coach Byron Scott told The Associated Press. "I think the biggest thing we should do ... is get thank-you cards and send them back to [Thunder team physician] Dr. [Carlan] Yates in Oklahoma City and just tell him, 'Thank you very much.' "
9 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 7
Carmelo Anthony and George Karl kissed and made up after Anthony was suspended for one game for refusing to come out of a game. But things could heat up again if the Nuggets don't get their act together. A 1-3 week (including a loss to the lowly Kings on Sunday) dropped Denver all the way to seventh in the tightly bunched West. "We have too many offensive lulls right now," Karl told reporters. "Chauncey [Billups] and [Carmelo Anthony] and J.R. [Smith] and our offensive players got to take more responsibility to take better shots."
10 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 10
I've waited a year and a half to speculate on this, but I'm going to do it now: Do you think the Blazers are starting to regret taking Greg Oden over Durant in the 2007 draft? The often-injured Oden has missed the last 10 games with a knee injury, and the Blazers say he is sidelined indefinitely. At least we know Oden is equally frustrated. "I get portrayed wrongly, like I don't have a heart," Oden told The Oregonian. "But I sit there and I try to explain to people what is going on, and it's like they aren't listening to me."
11 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 12
Has Mark Cuban seen enough? The Dallas owner threatened to overhaul the entire roster after a 96-87 loss at injury-depleted Oklahoma City last week. The Mavs rebounded to beat the Spurs at home but were beaten by New Orleans the next night to fall to 7-14 against the other eight playoff contenders in the West. "If each player can't take the personal initiative to make every game important and play like it," Cuban told the Dallas Morning News, "I don't see them being here next season."
12 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Atlanta Hawks (35-28)
Surprise! Josh Smith and Mike Woodson are at it again. The 23-year-old forward and the coach, who have had several well-publicized run-ins over the last few years, got into a heated exchange at halftime of a loss at Charlotte on Friday. Woodson reportedly accused Smith of playing selfishly, and benched him for the second half. "It happens," Woodson said after the game. "As a coach I think I dealt with it the best way I can, and now it's time to move forward. I've never held grudges against my players."
13 Miami Heat
Last Week: 14
Miami Heat (33-29)
How good has Wade been recently? The league's scoring leader is averaging 35.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 10.7 assists in the last 10 games, the most prolific stretch of his career. "I'm just in a groove, and when my jump shot is going like it is, I get more confident," he told the Palm Beach Post.
14 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 11
Phoenix Suns (34-29)
Their faint playoff hopes are slipping away. An 0-4 week dropped them four games behind the Mavs for the No. 8 seed in the West. Phoenix didn't exactly get a morale boost when Amar'e Stoudemire (eye surgery) was ruled out for the playoffs. "We don't have a large margin of error when we have Amar'e sitting at home," coach Alvin Gentry said after Sunday's loss at San Antonio.
15 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 16
One NBA scout's opinion on why the Allen Iverson experiment has failed: "It's hard to get upset with Allen because he can still get to the basket at will. He just can't finish anymore. He's a lot like Stephon Marbury. He still has the speed to get by a defender but he doesn't make the right decisions when he gets to the basket and his body doesn't let him do the things that he used to." The Pistons are 22-28 with Iverson in the starting lineup. He is expected to come off the bench when he returns from a back injury.
16 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 15
They fell at Oklahoma City on Sunday for their seventh loss in 10 games, leaving them only 2½ games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee in the East. Philadelphia hasn't beaten a team currently in playoff position since a victory against Miami on Feb. 7. The Sixers have home games this week against Toronto, Chicago and Miami before beginning a five-game West Coast trip.
17 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 17
Chicago Bulls (29-34)
Think they're happy to have pried John Salmons away from Sacramento at the trade deadline? With Luol Deng sidelined indefinitely with a leg injury, Salmons has filled in seamlessly, averaging 17.6 points in three games as a starter. Salmons scored 21 points in Friday's home victory against Milwaukee that moved the Bulls into the No. 8 spot in the East.
18 New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 18
Brook Lopez is making a convincing case for Rookie of the Year. The starting center became the first Net to win back-to-back Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors, leading all East first-year players in points (15.9), rebounds (8.5), field-goal percentage (61.0) and blocks (1.7) in February.
19 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19
After yielding the eighth playoff spot to Chicago, coach Scott Skiles called on the Bucks "to play with a sense of desperation." While New Jersey and Chicago hit the road this week, Milwaukee continues a six-game homestand that started with Saturday's victory against Golden State. "This is going to make or break us," guard Charlie Bell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of a home stretch that includes games against New Orleans, Boston, Orlando and Portland.
20 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 21
Saturday's victory at New York gave them a franchise-record six-game winning streak and matched the club mark of four consecutive road wins. The Bobcats entered the week only one game back in the East playoff race as the fifth-year team seeks its first postseason berth.
21 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 22
President Larry Bird said coach Jim O'Brien would "definitely" be back for a third season. Both men understood when O'Brien took over that it would take at least two years to excise some of the bad contracts and get the team headed in the right direction. O'Brien has kept Indiana competitive despite a rash of injuries (specifically to Mike Dunleavy) and an inferior roster.
22 New York Knicks
Last Week: 20
Chris Wilcox, whose athleticism and open-court skills (not to mention his playing for a new contract) appeared to make him a good fit in Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system, has averaged only 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in eight games with the Knicks. Wilcox did score nine points in 11 minutes against on New Jersey on Sunday, and he figures to get more playing time against the athletic frontcourts of Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland this week.
23 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 23
The Jamal Crawford situation continues to get stranger. Crawford was benched two weeks ago after coach Don Nelson decided to play his young players, prompting an angry response from Crawford's agent. Last week, Nelson reportedly told Crawford that if he doesn't opt out of his contract after the season he would likely be traded. Don't expect Crawford to heed Nelson's "advice." The 28-year-old guard, owed $20 million over the final two years of his contract, is unlikely to secure that kind of annual salary on the open market.
24 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 24
Shaquille O'Neal should take a look at his own stats before he accuses Chris Bosh of impersonating a big man again. In four games since Shaq called him "the RuPaul of big men," Bosh is averaging 29.2 points. Unfortunately, the Raptors haven't won any of them.
25 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 26
It's a long way from Stockton-to-Malone, but Westbrook and Nenad Krstic have developed a nice chemistry on the pick-and-roll. A handful of Westbrook's 10 assists during his triple-double against Dallas went to Krstic, who has stabilized the frontcourt since signing in December. "Those two are playing well together," general manager Sam Presti said.
26 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 25
Picking up the pace seems like the only alternative when your star big man goes down for the season. But coach Kevin McHale wants his team playing faster now so it can be even more proficient at that style when Al Jefferson returns next season. "Ideally, if you have a post player, the best way to play the game is to play fast before he gets there," McHale told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Then you play with him and off of him once he gets there."
27 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 29
They have figured out a winning formula: Take four days off between games and have your coach lecture about defensive accountability and threaten to bench any player who doesn't play D. It worked on Sunday as Sacramento upset Denver (though the Nuggets did put up 106 points and Billups shredded the Kings' defense in the fourth quarter).
28 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 30
The Grizzlies have not quit! At least according to coach Lionel Hollins. "The spirit is still there," Hollins told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "It's much better than when I took over. ... Now we're going through adversity and they have to learn to deal with that. They have to learn how to keep working no matter what the situation is." We'll see how the Grizz feel after road games this week against Boston and surging Detroit.
29 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 27
Here's all you need to know about the state of the Clippers. Following Cuban's tirade, the Mavs went out and upended San Antonio. After Clippers owner Donald Sterling dressed down his team following a loss to the Spurs -- a rant in which he reportedly called Al Thornton the most selfish player he has ever seen -- L.A. was hammered by Memphis two nights later. Said Chris Kaman: "It's like there is a curse on this team."
30 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
Instead of entertaining the possibility of bringing Gilbert Arenas back this season, the Wizards might want to consider sending Arenas and GM Ernie Grunfeld out to Oklahoma. Why? Because one look at Sooners power forward Blake Griffin should convince both that the best move is to keep Arenas on the sideline. Washington, tied for the worst record in the NBA, could end up with the best chance to win the lottery and select Griffin, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.
Got a different view than Chris?

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