Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for your podcast, “What is Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is rating the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player #35 Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook Career Highlights
- Nine times All-Star
- Twice First Team-All NBA, Five Times Second Team, Twice Third Team
- MVP 2017
- 2009 All-Rookie Team
- double scoring champion
- Three-time assists champion
- Four seasons averaging a triple-double
- Most career triple-doubles
Russell Westbrook’s numbers are impressive. All their.
From scoring, rebounds and assists to turnovers, shooting and usage rates. There is a rebuttal to every stance by Westbrook, with any point made on him both defensible and deficient and leaving him in a constant state of being underrated and overrated.
“(Westbrook) is a player that some people swear should be in the top 20,” Wright said. “And some people will swear it has to be out of the top 100.”
Russell Westbrook is number 35 on Nick Wright’s list
Russ has averaged a triple-double in three consecutive seasons and has 194 career triple-doubles in the regular season.
Stark contrasts in his productivity and efficiency, and from the regular season to the postseason, it only widens the gap between subjectivity and objectivity for the player referred to – sometimes ironically – as Mr. Triple-Double.
While few players in NBA history have brought more to the table than Westbrook, perhaps no superstar has simultaneously taken more advantage of it.
It wasn’t always that way with Russ, whose partnership with Kevin Durant turned the Thunder almost instantly into a competitor. Before he turned 24, and with 22-year-old James Harden coming off the bench, Oklahoma City defeated Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and a San Antonio Hall of Fame quartet before falling to the Heat in the 2012
Westbrook’s career contradictions didn’t manifest until 2014. As he struggled with a knee injury that sidelined him for about half the season, KD had his best year statistically and was named MVP while the Thunder won 59 games. OKC would not have made it to two Finals wins without Russ, however, whose sustained playoff excellence helped the club bounce back from deficits in the first two rounds and challenge eventual champions Spurs far more than the Heat.
In 2015, Durant missed more than half the season and Westbrook clinched the scoring title, having what was at that point his best year — and the Thunder missed the playoffs. In 2016, Westbrook made the All-NBA first team for the first time and achieved the best five-week streak he has ever had in the playoffs.
“It’s unfair and false to act like Russ never had a good time in the playoffs,” Wright said. “Up until Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, he was actually a very valuable playoff player.”
His dominance alongside Durant led Oklahoma City to a 3–1 lead over the Warriors to a 73-game Western Conference Finals win, just one win away from his second Finals appearance. And then Russ uncurled. He shot 36.8% from the field, 26.3% from 3 and 73.9% from free throws and averaged five turnovers over the next three games.
The Thunder lost all of them, and Durant left in free agency a few weeks later. Westbrook would never be the same, reaching historic heights in the regular season but never competing for a title again. In 2017, he became the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double in an entire season, earning a controversial MVP selection and a first-round elimination in the playoffs.
The Rise and Fall of Russell Westbrook
Skip Bayless details Russell Westbrook’s career from his days at the UCLA Bruins, through the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Washington Wizards and now the Los Angeles Lakers.
The next two seasons played out the same way, with Westbrook averaging triple-doubles and OKC being rejected in the opening round. He has recorded 157 of his NBA-record 194 triple-doubles since splitting with KD. He also won just 10 playoff games during that span and was traded three times in the past three years.
“It’s been so bad lately – this last year with the Lakers was a disaster – people forget how dominant he was in his prime,” Wright said. “Failed but dominant.”
No one has put more athleticism into a 6ft 3 frame, but even that can be polarizing as Westbrook never made a fully defensive team after being the Pac-10’s best defender before turning pro. At the same time, he is the only player in NBA history with multiple scoring and assisting titles. He never led the league in rebounds, but he was in the top 10 four times and twice eclipsed 11 rebounds per game. At just 33 years old, he ranks 30th in points and 11th in assists, and needs less than 900 rebounds to pass Jason Kidd at most one guard.
Westbrook also has a case as the worst volume pitcher in league history.
His career mark of 43.8% only looks worse when he adjusts to the times. Of the 166 players who have attempted 2,500 career 3-pointers, Westbrook’s 30.5% conversion rate is the lowest. And after shooting 82.3% free throws in the first nine years of his career, he has only hit 69.7% of them in the last five. His postseason lineup of 25-7-8 is as impressive as his shooting percentages (40.8 overall, 29.6 in 3s) are terrible.
Additionally, their current regular season (4.1) and postseason (4.0) turnover rates are the highest ever. The single player with the highest usage percentage of all time is Michael Jordan.
“Russ’s regular season achievements are right there with the 12, 15 greatest players of all time,” Wright said. “He was the hardest player to rank in this entire company.”
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