There are a lot of reasons to be impressed with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook.
He is a gifted athlete, a quality scorer, a fierce competitor, and an aggressive defender. Westbrook is capable of penetrating around defenders, and his athleticism is so great that he is capable of having big rebounding games.
At age 22, Westbrook has many strong seasons ahead of him.
However, Wednesday night's Dallas Mavericks victory over Oklahoma City could signal an upgrade at point guard for the Thunder.
Westbrook's flaws were exposed in the Western Conference Finals. Being on the opposite side of savvy veteran point guard Jason Kidd made Westbrook look outclassed, as he made costly turnovers and contributed to the Thunder's epic Game Four collapse.
Westbrook's showed poor shot selection, had trouble deciding when to give up his dribble, and turned the ball over an average of 4.8 times per game in the series, which matched his assist output.
On a team with Kevin Durant, among the best catch-and-shoot players in the NBA, Westbrook should be among the top five assists leaders in the NBA over the past three seasons, yet he lags behind more poised point guards.
Make no mistake, this is Durant's team. Westbrook has been criticized for his ball distribution to his teammates, and that includes Durant, who has led the league in scoring over the past two seasons.
There are plenty of teams that will be pushing harder than ever to make the Finals next season out of the West. The Lakers and Spurs bowed out early, and they will make every effort to bounce back. The Mavericks have already shown that they are legitimate contenders, and the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies have young teams who are hungry to win.
If the Thunder expect to improve on this season, they may have to make bold changes, and improving at point guard might be the best place to start.
Though Westbrook has his flaws, there will be no shortage of suitors to acquire the third-year All-Star guard should general manager Sam Presti decide to shop him.
One player that immediately comes to mind is Deron Williams. The New Jersey Nets' point guard is under contract for next season, and probably won't sign an extension with the club until next season.
The Nets could choose to swap Williams for Westbrook and some seldom-used bench players (to fit salary cap trade requirements) if the Nets feel that they are either better off with Westbrook, or if contract extensions stall.
The other point guard that should be available is Chris Paul. Though there have been indications that Paul would re-sign with New Orleans, the Hornets are probably aware of how Carmelo Anthony left Denver, and wouldn't mind dealing Paul when they have a chance, and get something of equal or better value in return.
Westbrook still owns a great deal of promise, so both the Nets and the Hornets would feel they could do far worse than acquiring the young guard who has made tremendous strides since his days at UCLA.
As for the Thunder, Westbrook could still be a part of their future. He has the ability to improve his court vision, decision making, and outside shot, and that could be the difference in closing out games like the last two against the Mavericks.
But players like Durant want to win now.
The Thunder needed confidence in their floor leader to hold off a team like Dallas. To avoid such collapses like Game Four and Game Five next season, either Westbrook needs to improve, or he should be dealt.