Chicago Sun-Times

Is Russell Westbrook better than Derrick Rose?

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With LeBron James and the Miami Heat one game from winning the NBA championship, a nightmarish postseason keeps getting worse for Bulls fans.

Derrick Rose's devastating injury in the playoff opener against the 76ers not only ruined the Bulls chances of winning the NBA championship, but put their immediate future as a contender in doubt.

After watching the Heat struggle to beat the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics in the playoffs, it's hard to not think the Bulls would have beaten the Chris Bosh-less Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. (Though a scenario your team is completely healthy while their team has a significant injury is asking for a lot from the basketball gods.)

And the NBA Finals series between the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, while thoroughly entertaining, has been particularly difficult to digest in Chicago. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, heretofore the next-best thing to Derrick Rose in the NBA, is rising to the top with a stellar series. His one-man, virtuoso performance in Game 4 -- 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting in a 104-98 loss -- left Rose in the dust and evoked memories of Michael Jordan's best NBA Finals performances.

Chicago is -- predictably -- extremely sensitive to this development. After one of Westbrook's early flurries in Game 4, I jokingly and simply tweeted, ''Westbrook or Rose?'' and immediately was hit with one salvo after another in response, like, how dare I even suggest that Westbrook is better than Rose?

It is both thrilling and frustrating to watch Westbrook play on this stage. At his best he's even more dangerous than Rose in a free-wheeling game -- he not only can get to the hoop and finish with his left hand, but also hits pullup jumpers without conscience.

But unlike Rose, Westbrook's strength also is his weakness. He doesn't know when to pull back. And nobody on the Thunder coaching staff seems willing to tell him to pull back. On the contrary, Thunder coach Scott Brooks encourages Westbrook to go full-tilt. It seems they feel if they tweak Westbrook's game even a little, he'll become a different player.

It doesn't make sense to me. It's not like asking Nolan Ryan to become Greg Maddux. Would it hurt Westbrook to throw a change-up every now and then -- like when his team is up 10 or more points in the first half? Instead he continues to go full-speed-ahead, which often plays right into the Heat's hands. They feed off fast-break baskets after missed jumpers and willy-nilly turnovers like no team in basketball. In fact, without them, it's often difficult for the Heat to reach that level that makes them better than everybody else.

Rose has shot the Bulls out of a lead on occasion, but there's a difference: Rose is not the jump shooter Westbrook is; and Rose often is the only player on the court who can create his own shot - if he doesn't take it, nobody will.

That's not the case with the Thunder, with Kevin Durant and James Harden. And that leads to yet another Rose-related lament in watching this series: What a shame that Derrick Rose doesn't have a Kevin Durant or Chris Bosh on his side. Or even a James Harden. What a luxury it is for Westbrook -- and LeBron James for that matter -- to have other playmaking threats on the floor. Rose is almost always on the floor with teammates who need Derrick Rose on the court to get open.

And to top it all off, Westbrook's brilliance likely won't be enough to prevent the Heat from winning the NBA championship. Not only will we have to suffer with that in Chicago, but we can't even say 'Wait 'til next year.'

At this point we don't even know if we can say, 'Wait 'til the year after next year.' We don't know when Derrick Rose will be back. Or how good he'll be when he gets back. Or how what the Bulls' roster will look like when he gets back. Or even how long he'll be back. For some reason, Derrick Rose being ''ahead of schedule'' -- as his orthopedist Dr. Brian Cole told ESPNChicago.com -- isn't very reassuring today.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on June 21, 2012 11:41 AM.

'Full-speed ahead' running Thunder into trouble was the previous entry in this blog.

Bulls GM Forman avoiding speculation on Asik offer is the next entry in this blog.

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