|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
|Russell Westbrook is showing some very promising signs at the Orlando summer league.|
ORLANDO, Fla. -- For all those raised eyebrows and puzzled experts who questioned Russell Westbrook's being chosen fourth overall in last month's NBA draft, a scout monitoring the Orlando Pro Summer League had this to offer Thursday: "He's flat-out the best player here not named Kevin Durant."
Lofty praise indeed for a herky-jerky point guard who some thought at one time was only the third-best player on his Final Four team at UCLA. High marks, for sure, for the player who sent shock waves through the draft with his stunning climb into the top five despite having averaged less than 13 points a game in college.
Oklahoma City's P.J. Carlesimo is as hardened and old-school a coach as there is in the NBA, but when the topic turns to Westbrook, he gushes as if he's talking about a newborn. After watching four days of summer league play, he knows the franchise new to Oklahoma City struck gold by plucking 6-foot-3 Westbrook with the fourth pick of the draft.
"At summer league, you tell yourself to wait on praising a kid because there aren't a lot of NBA players here, but what he's done is really impressive," Carlesimo said. "I don't think he's going to be a good player; I think he's going to be an excellent player. With young guys, the timetable is always uncertain. But it's not a question of if he's going to be great, but when. We just have to keep surrounding him with great players."
And Carlesimo said all that before Westbrook went out Thursday and gashed the Miami Heat and opposing point guard Mario Chalmers for 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in just 24 minutes. Miami routed OKC 101-76, but the game turned lopsided only after Westbrook headed to the bench for much of the sloppy second half.
--P.J. Carlesimo, OKC coach on rookie Russell Westbrook
"I've worked so hard to put myself in the position that I, am and it's surprising to me that people are questioning why I was picked so high," Westbrook said earlier in the week. "But here I am. To me, being the No. 4 pick means nothing because I'm starting all over again trying to show what I can do."
With his big shoulders, quick burst off the dribble and craftiness with the ball in his hands, Westbrook has shown he has enough skill in his game to be OKC's point guard of the future. Durant, the NBA's reigning Rookie of the Year, admitted earlier in the week that Westbrook is far better offensively than he thought and Durant had watched films of Westbrook before the draft. But the top point guard taken in the draft, Chicago's Derrick Rose, isn't surprised at all by what Westbrook has done this week.
"We went at each other really hard every day before the draft, and he's really good," said Rose, who is represented by the same firm as Westbrook. "Everybody out here might be surprised how good he is, but I'm not surprised."
Lost in all of the hype surrounding top picks Rose, Michael Beasley (19 points, two 3-pointers and five rebounds Thursday) and Westbrook this week has been the steady, promising play of rookie New Jersey center Brook Lopez.
The 7-footer from Stanford, the 10th pick in the draft, has improved his scoring and his comfort in the low post in each of his four games this week. He had 10 points Monday against Orlando, 18 on Tuesday versus Miami, 22 more against Oklahoma City on Wednesday and another 23 on Thursday against Chicago's Aaron Gray and Joakim Noah.
"I just want to come out each game and play better than I did before to show everything that I've learned," said Lopez, who has scored (18.3 ppg) much better than he has rebounded (5.0 rpg) this week. "Overall, I was better at stopping drives down the lane today than I've been. I feel like my looks will come and I'm just trying to pick it up defensively."
Lopez, all 260 pounds of him, also has shown the ability to step away from the basket and bury the 20-foot jump shot. His first move in the post is often to face the basket because of his comfort in knocking down the jump shot.
"I feel perfectly fine taking those shots," he said. "I put a lot of them up in practice, so I'm comfortable taking them in the game."
Patrick Ewing emerged from the Orlando Magic's victorious locker room with a smile plastered across his face and a thick bead of sweat rolling off his forehead.
The first-time head coach endured three losses in the first three days of summer league play, but finally tasted success Thursday when Orlando held on to defeat Indiana 82-80. Ewing's Magic had to sweat out a 3-pointer at the buzzer to hold on to the win.
"They gave me the game ball, and I'm keeping this stat sheet and framing it in my house," Ewing said. "It's my first win ever even though it doesn't really count."
Ewing, an assistant coach with the Magic, desperately wants to be a head coach in the NBA and was angered in April and May when he failed to land even an interview for an opening. Ewing, voted during his playing career as one of the NBA's 50 best players of all time, has stressed repeatedly that he's more than a "big-man coach," working with players of all sizes.
Ewing has gotten stellar play so far this week from rookie guard Courtney Lee (17.8 ppg, 53.3 percent 3-point shooting) and second-year center Marcin Gortat (12 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.5 bpg). And when Thursday's win was complete, the players mobbed Ewing to celebrate his first win.
"[Voted to] the Hall of Fame and my first coaching victory it's been a really good year," Ewing said.
Derrick Rose's introduction to professional basketball ended not long after it began.
Rose, the top overall pick in the draft by the Chicago Bulls, sat out a second consecutive game Thursday because of nagging tendinitis in his right knee and won't play in Friday's finale. Rose said he likely will undergo an MRI on the knee when he returns to Chicago this weekend.
"It's just tendinitis and nothing, like, super bad [wrong] with the knee," he said after Chicago's 84-68 loss to New Jersey in the Orlando Pro Summer League. "They say it keeps happening because I'm young and my legs aren't strong enough and they have to work on my legs."
Rose made his professional debut Monday against the second overall pick, Miami's Michael Beasley, and struggled through a 10-point, 5-turnover game. He played better Tuesday, with 9 points, 7 assists and 3 steals, but aggravated the existing soreness in the knee with an awkward landing on a jump-stop drive in the lane.
"That triggered it because I put all of that pressure on it," Rose said. "I tried it [Wednesday], and I was like, 'Man, it's not ready yet.'"
In two games, Rose made just 5 of 17 shots and had 8 turnovers to go with his 11 assists.
By missing Friday's game, Rose won't play against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in one of the marquee matchups of the week.
Streaming the summer league games live on their team Web site, the Magic have received 1.7 million page views in the first four days of the six-team event.
The webcasts streaming at orlandomagic.com also have made semi-celebrities of Magic employees George Galante and Dante Marchitelli, who have provided roughly six hours of running commentary a day for the broadcasts. In addition to their wacky style of play-by-play, the duo often reads e-mail from viewers during the webcast and claims to have received more than 11,000 e-mails since Monday. The two were guests of Scott Van Pelt on ESPN Radio on Thursday and have been the subject of numerous blogs across the Internet.
"I'd say the feedback has been 80-20 positive," said Galante, the Magic's director of communications who thought it was a practical joke Thursday when he was asked to appear on ESPN Radio. "Occasionally, a guy will write to us and tell us that we should be broadcasting the game straight. But when I read it on the air, we'll get flooded with people telling us to keep doing it the way we are."
John Denton is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.