Mike D'Antoni Expects Russell Westbrook to 'Turn it Up a Notch' in Playoffs
Rockets guard Russell Westbrook was in the midst of his best stretch of the season before the COVID-19 hiatus, averaging 32.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game in his last 20 contests. And when play resumes on July 30, Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni expects more sterling play from his star point guard. The 2020 playoffs could see Westbrook in MVP form.
“If you go on [Westbrook's] history and career, he’s always played better in the playoffs," D'Antoni told the media in a Zoom call on Wednesday. "He turns it up a notch. How he does that, I don’t know because it’s notch is pretty hot, but he turns it up a notch."
Westbrook has been among the most prolific playoff performers in the league over the last three seasons following Kevin Durant's departure from Oklahoma City. Westbrook led the NBA with 37.4 points per game in the 2017 playoffs–which included a round-one exit against the Rockets–and he averaged 29.3 points per game in the 2018 playoffs. Westbrook's competitive streak is matched by few players across the NBA. That intensity remains elite in the postseason.
While Westbrook's passion has never been questioned, his efficiency has been the subject of intense criticism in recent seasons. Westbrook shot under 40% from the field in each of the last three playoffs, with his percentage dropping to an ugly 36% in the 2019 postseason. But with Westbrook now alongside James Harden, D'Antoni expects an efficient postseason from the 2016-17 MVP.
"I expect [Westbrook] to be even more efficient," D'Antoni said. "I think he’ll come at you and he’ll give it everything he’s got, I do know that. And of course, I’ll hope it’s enough but I’d have no doubt that he will be efficient and play well and give it everything he’s got."
Westbrook appeared to be turning the tide from an efficiency standpoint once the calendar turned to 2020, shooting 53.5% from the field in his last 20 games. If Westbrook picks up where he left off in Orlando, the Rockets should challenge for the Western Conference crown.