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Russell Westbrook: The NBA’s 15th Best Player?

by Darnell Mayberry Published: October 14, 2011
OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has soared up the list of the league's best.
OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has soared up the list of the league's best.

By now, you probably have seen ESPN.com’s complete player ranking of the entire NBA.

Now is perhaps when it gets most interesting to Oklahoma City Thunder fans. While it was slightly intriguing to watch where certain Thunder players landed like Eric Maynor (157), Thabo Sefolosha (134), Nick Collison (115), Kendrick Perkins (95), James Harden (58) and Serge Ibaka (56), the real question was where would the team’s lightening quick point guard and biggest lighting rod come in.

Today, Russell Westbrook received his ranking.

According to 91 “experts” who rated each player on a 0-to-10 scale in terms of the current quality of each player, Westbrook is the NBA’s 15th best player.

Not bad.

What am I saying? That’s incredible for a guy who was barely recruited by mid-majors out of high school. A guy who had to scratch and claw for a starting spot at UCLA. A guy who couldn’t start in front of Earl Watson as a rookie.

Westbrook’s rise has been meteoric.

But did the experts get it right?

ESPN.com is encouraging you to weigh in, and they’ve started the debate with five panelists debating whether Westbrook’s ranking is too high, too low or just right. Two said just right. Two said too high. One said too low.

What do you think?

Here’s what I think.

I firmly believe Westbrook is a top five point guard. But he’s number five on my list behind, in order, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. That alone, if you agree with my ranking, suggests Westbrook is pegged about where he should be. He’s the fifth best player at his position — and I understand if that still might be up for debate for some seeing as how in this same ranking, for example, Rondo is rated behind Westbrook — and in this exercise he’s competing with the other four positions. Are there not 10 other players at the other four positions who today are not clearly better than Westbrook at this point? I think there are.

One doesn’t have to think hard or long to compile that list. LeBron, KD, Wade, Kobe, Melo, Dirk , Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. There’s your 10. Obviously, that’s completely subjective. This is all subjective. No one is an expert. With that said, there are still players like Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Steve Nash that people could make a strong case are still, today, better than Westbrook.

As many have already noted, it’s Westbrook’s decision making, shot selection and turnovers that do him in. If he drastically improved in just one of those areas (and he will) there’s no doubt he’d be a top 10 player. But right now, right now, it’s holding him back. (How good is Westbrook that he has so many perceived flaws and still is the 15th best player?)

The flip side is Westbrook’s phenomenal production. Most Westbrook supporters immediately run to his stats in backing him up. It’s a natural reaction and a logical argument considering the comps (most notably Derrick Rose). But it’s a flawed premise. The one panelist who deemed Westbrook’s ranking too low, ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh, not surprisingly used statistics as the means of stating his case.

Statistically, he’s on par with Derrick Rose, right down to their essentially identical player efficiency ratings (23.6 and 23.5, respectively).”

The problem with any argument in favor of Westbrook that relies on stats is that it completely ignores his Terrible Three. In fairness to Haberstroh, he did admit Westbrook’s decision making still makes him cringe. But stats, no matter how advanced, never tell the whole story. And relying on them too much, in whatever form, can cloud judgment.

Westbrook and Rose are not comparable. They are in two totally different situations. Rose doesn’t have the back-to-back scoring champ flanking him on the wing. You just can’t overlook that. Nor can you overlook how predictable Westbrook can be. There were too many times last season when you just knew he’d come down and take a 17-foot pull up without even thinking about looking for something else. All that needs to be considered, and it goes back to the trite “watch the game” argument.

I know it seems like I’m bagging on Westbrook. Trust me, I’m not. I think he’s a phenomenal player. I think he’s a top 20 player. And if he’s not just where he belongs at No. 15 then he’s not far from it.

-DM-

 

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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