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Is Russell Westbrook A Top 10 Point Guard of All-Time?

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With 181 career triple-doubles, Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson was once solidified as one of the best in NBA history. A record that once appeared unachievable will now be owned by Washington Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook. In a season that might not even get him on All-NBA ballots, Westbrook is averaging 22 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.6 assists per game. A few years ago, this would have easily seen him be named league MVP. In 2016, it actually did.

Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons. Last Saturday, he totaled 33 points, 19 rebounds, and 15 assists to go with a game-winning block against the Indiana Pacers. In the last five games, he has compiled 94 assists and 82 rebounds.  

Humble Beginnings  

In the 2008 NBA Draft, the soon-to-be relocated Seattle SuperSonics selected Westbrook out of UCLA with the fourth overall pick. This was widely regarded as a poor pick at the time. In his final season before declaring for the draft, Westbrook averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds. It was a solid stat line for a college prospect, but many doubted the probability of him being selected in the top five. In fact, his teammate at UCLA was none other than Kevin Love, a projected top five pick. In a Bleacher Report mock draft at the time, Westbrook was projected to go to the New Jersey Nets with the 10th pick; five spots after Love.

Oklahoma City Thunder

With impressive rookie and sophomore seasons, Westbrook’s progression to an All-Star talent by his third season was predictable. In 2011, the Thunder made their statement to the league when he and Kevin Durant took Oklahoma City to the Western Conference Finals, losing in five games to the eventual Champions in the Dallas Mavericks. With the trio of Westbrook, Durant, and James Harden, the Thunder made it to the NBA Finals the following year, falling short to the Miami Heat in five games. 

The next few years were a treat, but they always seemed to end up falling short. Westbrook had his playoff struggles along with Durant, who fell apart at the end of Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Harden had been shipped to the Houston Rockets following their Finals loss in 2012, but that didn’t stop the Thunder from being a strong franchise. They seemed to do well in the regular season, but had its playoff struggles. This lead Durant into signing with the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016, leaving Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Many thought he would thrive in an offense centered around him, but no one predicted how dominant he would be. 

No Durant? No worries

In the 2016 season, Westbrook maintained a usage rate of 41.65; the highest in NBA history. He became the first player to average a triple-double in 55 years. The usage rating was particularly high due to the lack of support around Westbrook. Looking back, Álex Abrines was receiving significant minutes on a Western Conference playoff team, but that was the power that Westbrook had. He was capable of bringing Oklahoma City to the playoffs as the sixth seed. The Thunder tried to bring in some star power with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but neither made the impact in Oklahoma City that was needed. The triple-double streak of Westbrook continued up until he was traded to the Rockets. 

A Short Stint In Houston

The 2019-20 season had a rocky start for Westbrook and the Rockets, but the team remained committed to his style by trading center Clint Capela. With his shooting falling below the league average, Westbrook revitalized his game by using his intelligence and athletic ability while driving. He wasn’t the focal point of the offense, but still found a way to have one of his most efficient seasons yet, despite not averaging a triple-double. Houston flamed out in the playoffs after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the narrative that Westbrook was washed had long passed.

The Washington Way

On December 2nd, Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall. Matters appeared bleak, as Bradley Beal was in trade talks to be traded to a contender, and it looked like the media and fans had given up on Westbrook. A COVID-19 issue suspended the Wizards ability to play games for three weeks, but would change the team for the better. Westbrook and Beal have both put up efficient stats and the Wizards are fighting for a play-in spot. The case to justify Westbrook being a top 10 point guard of all-time continues to grow. He has solidified himself as one of the best players of this generation and still has more to prove. 

What’s next?

It is difficult to pinpoint what will become of the 32-year old point guard in the next few seasons. For a player who has relied on athleticism his entire career, Westbrook has started to slow down, but not by much. The people negative about Westbrook’s career bring up the inefficiency, his lack of playoff success, and his contract to try and diminish his accomplishments. While some of those criticisms are valid, there are things Westbrook does on the court that can’t be measured, and that money can’t buy. Toughness, leadership, and effort give Westbrook the edge over the other guards. From not being a top level recruit in high school, to being a second fiddle on his college team and even into the NBA, Westbrook has vaulted himself into NBA history. At this point, it is indisputable that he is a top 10 all-time point guard.

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