The people vs Russell Westbrook

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The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.

After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?

Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.

Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.

The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.

Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.

The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.

Hall-of-Fame or Not

It’s time to play America’s favorite guessing game, say it with me folks, “Hall-of-Fame or Not.” I’ll give you an athlete from each of the major American sports (yes, I’m counting hockey) and then an arbitrary assessment of their hall-of-fame validity.

I’ll start with the inspiration for this post.

Baseball — Adrian Beltre

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Pros:
The best defensive third baseman of his generation. Almost unbelievable he only has four gold gloves.
-He has solid career offensive numbers: .284 average, 392 homers, 2,548 hits, .336 on base, 1,368 RBI, .479 slugging, and 75.3 total WAR.
-His seasons in Boston and Texas have been insane, posting WAR over 7 twice and 5 twice and hitting over .300 and 30 home runs in each of those years.
-Has has a shot at 3,000 hits if he plays until he’s 40.
Laughs at cameramen when they fall down and hates being touched on the head.
This is one of the greatest hits I’ve ever seen.

Cons:
-His early years with the Dodgers and Mariners are very pedestrian, hitting over .300 just once. Is that due to ideal park situations later?
-Doesn’t have a ring, although that doesn’t matter as much in baseball and he played in the World Series twice.
-Is Beltre one of the best third base defenders of all time or just extremely good? Arguable.

Verdict:
-He gets to 3,000 hits, he should be first ballot. If he decided to retire at the end of this season, no.

Football — Brian Urlacher

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Pros:
-One of the best players at his position in a very consistent career. He made eight pro bowls and was a four-time all-pro. Had two 100 tackle seasons and over 90 tackles four times.
-Was the leader of one of the best defenses of his era. A defense dominant enough in 2006 to make a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as it’s quarterback.
-One of the best linebackers ever at defending passes.

Cons:
-Not the best linebacker of his era. That distinction would go to Ray Lewis.
-Played on good defenses with other borderline hall-of-famer types like Peanut Tillman, Mike Brown (a stretch with him), Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers.
-Plays a position that is historically significant but becoming devalued over time. Middle linebacker is a position designed to stop the run. As the league becomes more and more pass happy, linebackers become less valuable. Just like running backs, teams should be wary of drafting non-pass-rushing linebackers with first round picks.
-Doesn’t have a ring.

Verdict:
-He should get in if for nothing more than pro number two.

Basketball — Shawn Marion

Shawn_Marion

Pros:
-He has a ring with the very entertaining 2011 Mavericks team.
-He was a key cog with the very entertaining 7 Seconds or Less Suns.
-One of the best defensive players ever. A Swiss Army knife who could defend Kobe and Dirk.
-Career stats are interesting: 15.8 points, 9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Has a career PER of 19.
-The Matrix, great nickname.

Cons:
-Was never a scorer, although he did have two seasons with 20-point averages.
-Was known for being mercurial.
-Piled up great stats for those Suns teams playing with a great point guard.
-If you’re ranking the top players from the past 10 years, how long does it take to get to Marion?
-Has one of the ugliest jumpers in Association history.

Verdict:
-He should definitely get in from stats alone.

Hockey — Chris Pronger

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Pros:
-The second best defenseman of his era after Niklas Lidstrom.
-Led the league in plus/minus twice with insane seasons in 1997-98 of +47 and +52 in 1999-2000. He played 30 minutes a game during his prime with the Blues.
-Had more than 30 assists 10 times.
-Has a ring with Anaheim. Took a terrible Oilers team to the finals in 2005-06.
Once was hit in the chest with the puck, had his heart stop and was back four days later.
-He didn’t fight often but he was devastating when he did.

Cons:
-Like Urlacher, he was one of the last of a dying breed. You don’t see the monster-sized defensemen much anymore. Zdeno Chara is really the last of the Mohicans there.
-Stats are good but uninspiring when looking at wings and centers.
-Career really didn’t get going until the 1997-98 season.

Verdict:
-He’s in, probably not much of an argument.