Russell Westbrook and the NBA's 10 Most Unfairly Criticized Players

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IJune 26, 2012

Russell Westbrook and the NBA's 10 Most Unfairly Criticized Players

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    Now that LeBron James has finally won a NBA championship, there's a new guy that has replaced him as the No. 1 most unfairly criticized player in the NBA—Russell Westbrook.

    Westbrook is an easy target. He plays out of control at times, and when he misses, he misses badly. But Westbrook isn't the only unfairly criticized player in the NBA.

    In a league where there are only five guys on the floor at a time and the players are very recognizable, the NBA is the mothership for media scapegoats. It's easy to find a dog to kick because many close games come down to one possession.

    Here is a list of the 10 most unfairly criticized NBA players. Many of the guys are on the list for different reasons.

    (Spoiler alert: Dwight Howard is not on this list. He is rightfully criticized.)

10. Andre Iguodala

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    The biggest mistake Andre Iguodala made was accepting his six-year, $80 million contract from the Philadelphia 76ers. Iguodala is a good NBA player. He's just not worth $13 million a year. The biggest mistake NBA teams make is overpaying All-Stars like they are superstars.

    The only players in the NBA that should make more than $13 million a year are durable centers and superstars. Centers can be overpaid because there aren't a lot of them in the league.

    But when a team is paying someone of Iguodala's caliber that kind of coin, it's stupid. Iguodala is not going to be the best player on a championship team.

    With that said, Iguodala is still one of the better small forwards in the NBA. He's a defensive stopper that you can throw on most wing players in the NBA. Because he's paid so much, though, Iguodala is expected to produce more on the offensive end of the floor.

    That's not Iguodala's game. He's a defender. The only reason he's criticized is because of his contract. If he were making $7 million a year, you would never hear a bad thing about Iguodala's game.

9. Rudy Gay

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    When the Memphis Grizzlies needed him the most, Rudy Gay disappeared. The Grizzlies lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs after blowing Games 1 and 3.

    Gay, the presumed go-to guy on the Grizzlies, averaged just 15.3 points in the last three games of the series. It's not like a lockdown defender was guarding Gay either. Nick Young and Caron Butler guarded him for most of the series, two guys Gay should have demolished.

    Like Andre Iguodala, Gay's criticism lies in the fact that he has a contract north of $80 million. That's LeBron James money.

    Gay is a borderline All-Star, but not a superstar. Unfortunately, Gay will always be compared to his contract. If you're paid $15 million a year, you better produce like someone who's worth $15 million a year.

8. Tyreke Evans

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    Tyreke Evans is an awe-inspiring player to watch in the open court. He resembles a freight train on the move and can slice through the lane with the same ease as LeBron James.

    Unfortunately for Evans, he's been placed in one of the worst situations in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings have done a terrible job in their development of Evans. Bad coaching and management has led to a plateauing of Evans' game.

    At this point, Evans may be better served on a new team. His future in Sacramento is bleak. The Kings are now DeMarcus Cousins' team, and Evans is learning a new position all over from scratch.

    He's struggling to adjust to life without the ball in his hands, and his jump shot is not strong enough to make him a consistent spot-up shooter.

    Evans has potential to do great things in the NBA. Coaching is important for a young player's development. So far, Evans has had none.

    He's a rare athlete with size and speed. You heard it here—Evans will leave the Kings and do great things for another NBA team.

7. Blake Griffin

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    Blake Griffin is an easy target to criticize. He has many weaknesses in his game, acts like he's shot anytime he's fouled and can be a crybaby when things don't go his way.

    What people fail to realize about Griffin is he just finished his second season in the NBA (technically his third, but Griffin was injured for the entire season the year he was drafted).

    For a player that just finished his second NBA season, Griffin is light years ahead of the competition. He's already started in an All-Star game and plays all out every night.

    Sure, Griffin has flaws—he's a terrible free-throw shooter, doesn't grab enough rebounds and needs to develop a consistent mid-range shot.

    But for being a young big man, Griffin is way ahead of the curve. There are barely any big men in the league who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Let Griffin grow. Eventually he will develop his game. Griffin is one of the hardest-working players in the NBA. It will be scary once he expands his talents.

6. Kobe Bryant

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    Last week there was an article on CNBC written by Southern Utah University economics professor David Berri about the most overpaid players in the NBA. Berri used a series of statistics, including shooting percentage, turnovers, rebounds and fouls, to gauge if a player was overpaid. Kobe Bryant came in on the list at No. 2.

    The statistics only represented on-court production and failed to note how much some players are worth economically to their franchise. Bryant made more than $25 million in 2011-12, but because of how big of a ticket Bryant is for the Lakers, not to mention all the merchandise he sells, you can argue that he's actually underpaid.

    Bryant also gets criticized for shooting too much and not getting his teammates involved. It's true—Bryant does make a lot of questionable decisions for being one of the best NBA players of all time.

    But ask yourself this—would you rather have Bryant taking the majority of the Lakers' shots or Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions, Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes? Bryant shoots because he's the Lakers' best option.

    If you want to argue that the Lakers are worse because of Bryant, that's just stupid. Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA and is the reason the Lakers are still such a good team.

5. Chris Bosh

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    Because of the greatness of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, people forget just how good Chris Bosh is. Before coming to the Miami Heat, Bosh was the go-to guy on the Toronto Raptors.

    On the Heat, Bosh is the third option. The fans and media repeatedly mocked Bosh in year one of the Heat experiment. He was called soft, the "RuPaul of NBA big men" and "Bosh Spice."

    Bosh sacrificed so much in terms of personal glory in order to join the Heat. He was quickly criticized for being the worst member in the Big Three—something that all but maybe four players in the NBA would be.

    Once Bosh went down with a lower abdominal injury during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it was evident just how important Bosh was to the Heat's success. Without Bosh, it was tough for the Heat to spread the floor.

    Bosh returned in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics and was a difference-maker. He was 3-of-4 from behind the arc in Game 7, acting as the NyQuil before finally putting the Celtics to sleep.

    Without Bosh, the Heat would not have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, they probably wouldn't have beaten the Celtics.

    It's easy to get underappreciated when you're on the same team as James and Wade. Just remember, Bosh is still a heck of a basketball player and a true difference-maker on the Heat.

4. Pau Gasol

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    Pau Gasol was the victim of the Los Angeles Lakers' obsession with Andrew Bynum.

    Gasol didn't become a bum in the span of a year. Instead, he was a casualty in order to integrate Bynum's larger role in the Lakers offense.

    Gasol is a center, and with Bynum clogging the paint all season, he was forced to play away from the basket.

    If Gasol is traded, he will regain his spot as one of the best big men in the league. He needs to be in the paint working his magic, not hoisting up mid-range jump shots.

3. Carmelo Anthony

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    Carmelo Anthony is a megastar in the eyes of the fans and media. He's a superstar, according to his stats. Ever since forcing his way to New York, though, Anthony has been ridiculed and undervalued.

    Anthony is what he is—a ball-stopping forward that plays little defense and doesn't make his teammates better. Anthony has always been that way. He's just being magnified now in front of a large spotlight.

    Anthony is not Kobe Bryant. He's not Kevin Durant. Heck, he's not even Chris Paul. Anthony is a scorer—always has been and always will be.

    Because Anthony can fill up a stat sheet with the best of them, he's been typecast as something he's not. Anthony is not a superstar. He's just a really good offensive basketball player.

    Anthony can be the best player on a championship contender. He just needs help because he's not a complete player. During the Jeremy Lin craze, it was insane that people were talking about Anthony deferring to Lin.

    Anthony is a go-to guy. He just needs to learn how to expand the rest of his game. Like so many other players on this list, Anthony is unfairly criticized because we want him to be something he's not.

2. LeBron James

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    Now that LeBron James has won a title, he is no longer the most unfairly criticized player in the NBA. But because he was a child prodigy and someone who's been compared to Michael Jordan himself his entire career, James will always be unfairly criticized.

    We live in this world where sports media puts the careers of all current star athletes on a ridiculous pedestal. Before James won his title, he was considered a career underachiever. He wasn't allowed to be considered great until he won a championship, even though winning a championship is the hardest thing to do in sports.

    It takes more than just one player to win a title; that's why basketball is a team sport. "Teams" win titles, not players. Karl Malone and Charles Barkley never won titles, but that doesn't make them any less great.

    "Not two, not three, not four..." will live with James for the rest of his career. It was stupid for him to say, but just because he said the Heat will win eight titles doesn't mean we should hold him to those standards.

    James is an amazing basketball player, the best since Jordan. He can do it all—score at will, guard every position on the court and make his teammates better. Appreciate a good thing when you see one, and stop holding James to an ungodly standard.

1. Russell Westbrook

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    Sports writers, notably ESPN's Skip Bayless, have created this notion that NBA players are supposed to play their respective position a certain way. When they deviate from the norm, they are crucified.

    Look at Russell Westbrook, the ultra-athletic freak who plays point guard unlike anybody else. Because Kevin Durant can do no wrong in the eyes of the public, when the Oklahoma City Thunder lose, Westbrook becomes the scapegoat.

    In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Westbrook played the game of his life, but the Thunder still lost. Westbrook finished with 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists. He was breathtaking to watch, picking up the reins while his buddy Durant struggled to get position all night long.

    But then just as fast as you can flush a toilet, Westbrook made the game's biggest brain fart when he fouled Mario Chalmers with 13.8 seconds on the game clock, five on the shot clock. Westbrook sealed the Thunder's loss with a stamp, even though he was the reason they were in the game in the first place.

    Westbrook is a gamer, but because he's on the same team as Durant, he's the first to blame when things go wrong. The Thunder will always be Durant's team, even if Westbrook's personality is better suited as the top guy. Durant came first, he's the best scorer in the NBA and his misses don't look nearly as bad as Westbrook's.

    Now that LeBron James has won his title, Westbrook will replace him as the media's No. 1 whipping boy. Don't be swayed by what you hear from talking heads. Westbrook is great and a big reason why the Thunder are such a good team.

    The Thunder don't win in spite of Westbrook. He's one of the biggest mismatches in the entire NBA.