Russell Westbrook Top 50 All-Time?

If you listen to the show, then you heard us propose this exact question on the latest episode of the 2Smart Dummies (Basketball Jones).  You also would know that Marques and I vastly disagree on if he is a top 50 player of all time.  From my perspective Russ not making the list is a ridiculous stance on so many levels.  But at the end of the day it comes down to one basic point for me!  Oscar Robertson has been securely in the top 50 for all these years largely because he had 3 records that seemed like they were unbreakable!  The 41 triple doubles in a season, 181 all-time triple doubles, and he averaged a triple double for a whole season.  2 of these records have stood for 55 years!  In 2016 – 2017 Russell Westbrook broke the single season triple double record with 42 and finished the season averaging a triple double.  Then he went on to average a triple double for 2 seasons after that making him the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for 3 consecutive seasons in a row!  So, for perspective not only did Westbrook break the record but he has shattered it!  Something that Magic Johnson, Lebron James, Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, or whoever else you would like to name did not accomplish.  At the very least he would take Oscar Robertson’s spot on the top 50 list!  Oscar Robertson was a great player but there is no way he made the list and held the spot for 20 years and Russell Westbrook can’t make the list.  Oscar Robertson played in the 60’s, in which was dominated by the Celtics and most players still had a part time job at the factory and smoke cigarettes at halftime!  In my opinion Russell Westbrook has played in one of the golden ages of basketball since he entered the league in 2008.  That means that Westbrook competed against Big 3 Celtics, Spurs with Tim Duncan, Lebron with Cavs (both stints) and the Heatles, Golden State Warriors, Raptors with Kawhi, Clippers with CP3 and Blake Griffin, Suns with Nash and Amare, Dallas with Dirk, etc.  Not only did he compete during the golden age, he was in the Western Conference in which we can all agree was the most dominant conference during this time.  So why doesn’t Westbrook get the respect that he deserves?  In general, I feel like it’s because he is not a likeable personality!  When Lebron entered the league, he was designated as a prime candidate to break Oscar Robertson’s record.  Lebron didn’t fail to do this because he wasn’t trying, he failed to do it because it is a very difficult task to accomplish.  During his first stint with Cleveland Lebron averaged around 30pts 7ast 7rebs!  Lebron was applauded for his versatility and ability to fill up a stat sheet even before winning his 1st NBA title with the Heat.  What do you think the fan fare would have been like if Lebron broke Oscar Robertson’s record and averaged a triple double for 3 straight seasons without winning a title?  My overall problem with these discussions is that there are no consistent criteria!  That statement applies for committees that vote, former players, and just general fans.   Really it comes down to whether you like the player or not.  Westbrook is largely disliked not only by fans but also by current and former players and members of the media.  He doesn’t do himself any favors by his nonchalant attitude.  But the biggest thing working against Westbrook now is that he is still playing in the league.  And it has been proven time and time again that it is hard to truly appreciate players if they are still currently in the league.  We hold current players to standards that we do not hold former players that have already made the Hall of Fame.  It’s almost consensus that Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play the game, but in 1997 this was not the case.  Believe it or not there were still a large number of people that did not believe that he was better than Magic Johnson.  In 1997 Jordan only had 4 NBA titles as opposed to Magic Johnson’s 5 NBA titles.  Michael Jordan was also considered to be a selfish player as opposed to Magic Johnson’s pass first style!  Just goes to show how you feel about a player can change drastically after a player retires.  But also, to be fair Jordan did go on to win 2 more championships and cement himself as the greatest player of his era.  Overall it feels like Westbrook will need a championship to cement his legacy.  But I believe that winning a title will only help to move him up on the all-time great list and/or the top PG of all-time list.  Those are separate conversations from being a top 50 all-time player!  Whether we like it or not STATISTICS weigh heavy in these debates after a player retires.  Arguments against Westbrook are that he can’t shoot, hasn’t won a championship, can’t get out the first round, he is a stat chaser, can’t play defense, can’t win without Kevin Durant, etc.  But those same things can be applied to other players that people believe are in the top 50 of all-time.  Jason Kidd is a career 40% FG shooter, John Stockton didn’t win a title, Westbrook has been to the finals and frequently got out the 1st round before 2016, every player stat chase, Nash couldn’t guard a trash can, and you can only win with talent.  But let’s take a look at Westbrooks resume and you be the judge!

[qt-caption title=”Russell’s Stats”]

Career Average
• 22.9pts 9.5ast 7.5rebs 1.1stls FG 48.5% FT 84%

Career Average with Kevin Durant
• 21.7pts 7.5ast 5.6rebs 1.75stls

Career Average without Kevin Durant
• 26.6pts 10.4ast 10.6rebs 1.8stls

Final Season playing with Kevin Durant
• 23.5pts 10.4ast 7.8rebs 2stls

Awards:
• 2016 -2017 MVP
• 8x All-Star
• 2x All-Star MVP
• 8x All NBA(1st(2), 2nd(5), 3rd(1))
• 2x NBA Scoring Champ
• Olympic Gold Medal
• World Championship Gold Medal

Records:
• Most triple doubles in a single season (42)
• Most consecutive triple doubles in one season (11)
• Most 50 point triple doubles in a season (3)
• Only player to win MVP, Scoring title, and average a triple double in a season
• First player with back to back all-star MVPs without sharing
• Only player to average 40pts 12rebs 11ast over 5 games
• Only player in history to win scoring title and average 10 assist per game
• Only player to have a triple double without missing a FG(6 for 6) or FT(6 for 6)

Playoffs:
• 2009 – 10 Lost in 1st Round
• 2010 – 11 Lost in Conference Finals
• 2011 – 12 Lost in NBA Finals
• 2012 – 13 Lost in Conference Semi-Finals
• 2013 – 14 Lost in Conference Finals
• 2015 – 16 Lost in Conference Finals
• 2016 – 17 Lost in 1st Round
• 2017 – 18 Lost in 1st Round
• 2018 – 19 Lost in 1st Round

Playoff Records:
• Highest scoring triple double in playoff history (51 points)
• Only player in history with 3 straight 30-point triple doubles in a series
• One of only 2 players with 25pts 15assist in back to back playoff games
• Tied for most points scored in the 4th quarter of a Finals Game (Shaq, KD, Wade, Curry)

Westbrook was praised for staying with the team that drafted him after KD left to go to the Warriors.  But in hindsight that looks like a bad decision.  KD was once the villain but now after winning 2 NBA titles and 2 Finals MVP people have forgotten that he was half of the problem in OKC meaning that he carried half of the failure.  The decision to stay in OKC and try to win a title negatively impacted Russell Westbrook.  Although he has accumulated individual success he has yet to make it out of the 1st round of the playoffs.  Russ carries the blame but it’s not all on him.  He could have easily left OKC in 2017 – 2018 but he stayed and tried to help them win a championship.  How is that a selfish player?  For that OKC rewarded him by sending him the Houston Rockets to play with James Harden.  Giving Russ a chance to turn around his legacy just like Kevin Durant.  If Russ is able to win a title with Houston, his legacy is cemented and whether you like it or not he will be in conversations for the greatest point guard of all time.  But even without a title there is no question in my mind Russ is a top 50 all-time player.  We can agree to disagree!