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OKC has a gem in Westbrook
by John Denton / July 9, 2009

Russell Westbrook - Steve KylerThe Orlando Pro Summer League is three days old and this much has become blatantly obvious to all the coaches, scouts and players involved: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is the best player here.

While some were shocked last season when Westbrook was the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft, no one is doubting that genius pick now by Thunder general manager Sam Presti.

Westbrook had his finest showing of the camp so far, torching Boston’s Gabe Pruitt for 26 points, five assists, four rebounds and five steals in the Thunder’s 94-82 defeat of the Celtics.

After a stellar rookie season in the NBA -- one in which he was one of only 15 players to average at least 15 points (15.3), four rebounds (4.9) and four assists (5.3) -- Westbrook admitted Wednesday that he is so much more at ease with the game now.

``I’m better at picking and choosing my spots now,’’ said Westbrook, who has averaged 23.3 points and 7.3 assists in three summer league games so far. ``It helps me out by slowing down and seeing all of the things that I missed last year. Things have slowed down for me and I’m seeing the game so much better now.’’

Today will likely be the last day to see Westbrook. He plans to play today against the New Jersey/Philadephia split-squad team and then skip the camp finale on Friday. Clearly, Westbrook has already proven himself to be among the finest players here.

Here’s a look at the rest of the action from Wednesday in Orlando.

GAME 1: Indiana Pacers (3-0) 95, Utah Jazz (1-2) 79

STUDS: Pacers big men Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert continued to be the best duo here, battering a smallish Utah team that might be the weakest squad here. Hansbrough had 24 points, mostly by getting to the free throw line 14 times (all makes). And remarkably Hibbert continued displaying the offensive skill that few through he possessed when he came into the league. He had 21 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. If Hibbert keeps this up he could soon drop the tag of being ``the next Samuel Dalembert.’’ He still sorely lacks athleticism, but he’s smart, more physical this time around and his conditioning is markedly improved.

DUDS: Goran Suton faced off against Hansbrough for the first time since the two met in the national championship game in April. And like that game, this was again no contest. Suton seems to have an aversion to playing physical basketball, giving him little chance of ever making the Utah roster with Jerry Sloan as coach. Too often, he settles for outside shots instead of driving the ball and trying to get to the free throw line. And in 51 minutes so far, he’s pulled down just nine rebounds.

GAME 2: Oklahoma City Thunder (2-1) 94, Boston Celtics (1-2) 82

STUDS: Somewhat overshadowed in the greatness of Westbrook was the promising play of Shaun Livingston, who had 10 points, six rebounds and two assists for the Thunder. His behind-the-back shake move was one of the best plays of the day, and he finished off the highlight-worthy moment with a feathery soft 15-foot shot.

Livingston says he’s about 90 percent of the way back from the devastating leg injury he suffered two seasons ago. He’s played mostly shooting guard and small forward this week with Westbrook around running the show, but occasionally he’s delivered some of the breathtaking vision and play that made him the No. 4 pick of the 2004 NBA Draft.

DUDS: Lester Hudson’s big to get invited to the Celtics training camp in October might have hit a major roadblock Wednesday when he broke the index finger on his left hand. He’ll return to Boston today and could have surgery on the finger by next week.

Hudson, college basketball’s second-leading scorer last season at Tennessee-Martin, was trying to show Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers that he has enough toughness and passing skills to back up Rajon Rondo for the Celtics. He was impressive in drills before the start of the camp, and showed his offensive firepower in Game 1 on Monday by pouring in nine points in one eight-minute stretch. Hudson just hopes that he’s done enough to impress Ainge and Rivers.

``They’ve told me they’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve shown on both ends of the floor,’’ Hudson said. ``They are a defensive team and I’m trying to show them that I’m the guy who can really stop people defensively. I hope I’ve shown enough. I feel like I’ve done some good things.’’

GAME 3: Orlando Magic (2-1) 108, New Jersey Nets/Philadelphia 76ers (0-3) 86

STUDS: Maurice Ager played in only 20 games last season with the New Jersey Nets after he was buried behind Vince Carter and Chris Douglas-Roberts most of the season. So it was only natural that he came out with a little more pep in his step Wednesday against a New Jersey team that showed no interest in him returning.

Ager had 21 points in 26 minutes, making six of his 12 shots, a 3-pointer and eight of nine free throws. The Magic, likely looking for minimum-salaried players after acquiring Carter in a blockbuster trade, are in need of at least one more wing player, and Ager is hoping for a chance.

``I’ve been in the league three years and I’ve been working on my game,’’ Ager said of his experience advantage over most of the players in the summer league. ``I’ve learned from some of the best players in the game and I’ve tried to add some of those things to my game.’’

Dionte Christmas (18 points, four 3-pointers) had his best showing of the camp, while Terrence Williams (16 points, seven rebounds and four assists) was better after a dreadful start to the camp. Williams still infuriates those around him at times with his careless, showboating passes and must cut down on the 11 turnovers he’s had in three games.

DUDS: Marreese Speights had a spectacular dunk over Orlando’s Richard Hendrix, but otherwise it was a forgettable game for the promising power forward/center. Too often, Speights is looking to roam the perimeter instead of using his distinct size advantage in this league. He missed six of 10 shots again on Wednesday and is shooting 37.5 percent through three games, a woefully low percentage for a post player.

John Denton has contributed to HOOPSWORLD for three seasons. He’s covered the Orlando Magic and the NBA for 11 years.