Russell Westbrook has improved as a basketball player in every season that he has been in the NBA. He never played point guard until he came to the Oklahoma City Thunder and ever since then he has grown as a player.
Westbrook started out as just a gifted athlete who would maybe turn into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Then he showed he could score and do so at an alarming rate. All the while he was picking up dimes, around eight per game even though he still wasn’t a pure point.
Last season, Westbrook’s scoring prowess flexed its muscles more than ever as he was fifth in the league averaging 23.6 points per game. He shot a career-high 45.7 percent from the field but his assists dropped to 5.5 per game from 8.2 the season before.
This year he is combining the best of both worlds. Westbrook is still top 10 in the league scoring 22.4 points per game this year and he’s also top five in the league dishing out 8.3 assists per game. Combine that with his improved defense and Westbrook has again taken a step forward this season as a player.
The starters for the 62nd NBA All-Star Game are going to be announced tonight and Westbrook has a chance to be one of the starting backcourt players in the Western Conference. It is essentially a 4-man race for two starting spots in the West between Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, James Harden and Westbrook.
Starting in the NBA All-Star Game is a popularity contest because it’s the fans who vote. That may hold Westbrook back this year but in terms of who deserves to start, Westbrook is as much so as anyone.
Kobe and Paul will likely get the nod tonight while Westbrook will once again be a reserve. But Westbrook has done for his team as much as either of these two has this year.
The decision is really between Paul and Westbrook as to who should start. Kobe is leading the league in scoring right now even at age 34 and is doing so much for a Lakers team trying to tread water.
Team success has a lot to do with All-Star candidacy and Westbrook and Paul are neck-in-neck when it comes to overall record. You can first then make the case that Paul has a slight edge in this department since he’s his team’s best player while Westbrook plays second fiddle to Kevin Durant.
Paul also has an edge over Westbrook when it comes to efficiency. He has a PER of 26.6 which is third best in the NBA while Westbrook’s PER of 23.9 is 9th best in the league.
But Westbrook is actually called upon to do much more than Paul and that has to count for something. It’s easier to be more efficient while doing less and that’s part of why Paul ranks where he does.
Sure, Paul runs the show for the Clippers and always has the ball in his hands but Westbrook is straddled with the responsibility of being a volume shooter for OKC. Westbrook takes the bad shots which allows Durant to be the golden boy who can never do any wrong.
It’s a burden that will garner Westbrook criticism for his entire career but one that should be admired for someone like him to accept.
It’s not just this that separates Westbrook from Paul. Westbrook is also the more complete player. They technically play the same position but that’s not really the case. Westbrook is more of a Dwyane Wade-type while Paul is the traditional point. This gives Westbrook the chance to affect the game in more ways than Paul.
Westbrook is the best offensive rebounding point guard in the league. It’s not even close. He’s a great defensive rebounder too and a more versatile defender than Paul is.
So while Paul is more efficient in his role in LA, Westbrook produces more with what he’s doing in OKC.
At the end of the day, both Paul and Westbrook are deserving to start in this game. You can make a case for either and it sometimes will just come down to a matter of taste.
Paul will likely get the nod when the starters are announced tonight on TNT and that will be very fitting for Westbrook. He likes being doubted, underappreciated and still having to prove himself. That’s part of what makes Westbrook so valuable. What makes him deserving of the recognition as a starter in the NBA All-Star Game.