As big of a KU fan as I am, obviously, and a fan of college basketball in general, I'm not much of an NBA guy. I'll watch on Wednesday nights when there's nothing else on, or when I can catch players who I really like to watch, eg Steve Nash. This year I hopped onto the Thunder bandwagon because they drafted Cole Aldrich, because they have Nick Collison, and I think Kevin Durant might be the most likable superstar in sports.
I didn't watch too many games in the regular season, but I have watched all of them in the playoffs and I have come to one realization: Russ Westbrook completely holds the Thunder back. But also, he propels them to greater heights than nearly any other in the league could. Few NBA teams can survive their superstar getting shut down. The Thunder can because of Westbrook. Now how does this tie this back to Kansas?
Before I get there let's look at Westbrook in both game three and game four. Westbrook stalled the offense to the point that they blew game three and almost blew game four. He had 40 points in game four, but an eFG of just 45%, and was 13-31 from two. The great Bethlehem Shoals (and by the way, reading him could make you enjoy the NBA if you don't) has written two pieces about Westbrook, but this is the most important one. Piggybacking off this, I would add that Westbrook seems diametrically opposed to his Thunder teammates. Kevin Durant reminds me of basketball's answer to the pitching machine. His jumper, while silky smooth, is mechanical. The exact same every time. Durant doesn't surprise you. Westbrook, on the other hand, will spend four possessions holding the ball at the top of the key and then launch a 20 footer with the shot clock running out, before spending the fifth knifing into the lane and making a circus layup.
Which leads me to our Jayhawks and Tyshawn Taylor. If Marcus Morris was our Kevin Durant (sans the personality differences), Taylor was our Westbrook. Statistically he was fine, shooting 38% from three, 50.5% from two and 72% from the line. But there is no doubt he plays the game with a reckless abandon that no one else on the team plays with. This has been supported anecdotally over and over again if you have ever read the comments section on an RCT post featuring his name, but also supported statistically, as evidenced by his 26.7% turnover rate, worst on the team.
I don't think Thunder fans really blame Westbrook for the two losses to Memphis. I just think they wish Kevin Durant would get more shots. Likewise, I don't think Kansas fans blame Tyshawn for their loss to VCU (especially when looking at Brady and Tyrel's shooting from three). But they are each a convenient scapegoat: a talented yet mercurial guard who treats basketball as a performance moreso than a sport.
There is one major difference between Westbrook and Tyshawn though. A bad season from Westbrook next year will probably see the Thunder finishing around the 4-5 seed range again, while a bad season from Tyshawn next year will assuredly see the streak of Big 12 titles come to an end, and while I like Elijah Johnson and think Tharpe will develop into a good point guard, it could threaten the NCAA tournament streak as well (though to be fair I highly doubt it). And that is where it is fair to criticize Tyshawn. Because if he gets to the gym this summer and works on his pull up jumper and a floater, and turns it over at a slightly lower rate next year (which would mean he had a much better year given the changes we are going to see in the roster), Kansas has a special season in them, even with the talent in Lexington and Chapel Hill. And I don't mean the type of special season we saw in 2009, when Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich dragged a plucky crew to a 3 seed and a Sweet 16, I mean the type of special season we were denied the past two seasons.