Why Comparing CP3 and Russell Westbrook Is Apples and Oranges
As LeBron James and the Miami Heat proved throughout the 2011-12 season, positions are simply labels and nothing more.
Classic positions work as heuristics to help us, as fans, wade through analysis and associate responsibilities with players we may or may not be familiar with.
In the case of Russell Westbrook, it simply does no good to classify him as a point guard.
Sure, he's going to appear next to the "PG" label in the box score every night, but that hardly helps in analyzing his play.
Westbrook's size makes him what many would consider a prototypical point guard, but make no mistake about it, there's nothing conventional about him.
He plays at a different pace and with a different mindset than the rest of the NBA's point guards, and it's almost impossible to pigeon-hole him and say that he's either this or he's that.
What's certain is that Westbrook is unique.
While he has a group of apologists, Westbrook's haters are typically the more vocal ones. As Grantland's Bill Simmons points out, haters have plenty of reasons, many of which are valid, to dislike Westbrook's play:
Westbrook's detractors don't ever expect him to find the right balance between 'competitive' and 'reckless.' They believe he's a shooting guard masquerading as a point guard (like a better version of Stevie Francis or Tyreke Evans); that he takes too many shots away from the more efficient Kevin Durant; that Oklahoma City can't win the title until they swap him out for a true point guard (say, Rajon Rondo).
We hear it all the time.
Westbrook simply isn't going to be effective until he can learn to play off of Kevin Durant or take fewer shots in traffic. But the truth is, those fearless, often enraging, habits that Westbrook possesses are what make him so special.
For instance, look at Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals. Westbrook turned in the performance of a lifetime, pouring in 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting (62.5 percent), only to see his team fall in a 3-1 series hole.
Call him all the names you want, but I can't see many conventional point guards putting on that kind of performance under such intense pressure.
To compare Westbrook to one of his peers, someone like Los Angeles Clippers' point guard Chris Paul, is simply unfair to both players.
Paul treats the game as if he is an artisan, carefully calculating the pros and cons of each bounce pass. He also slashes through the lane with a calm, controlled demeanor.
Westbrook will look for his shot before even considering a pass, whereas Paul surveys the floor and lets the game come to him.
Since his rookie season, Paul has not averaged fewer than 8.9 assists per game for an entire season. He has always found ways to stabilize his offensive production, averaging 18.8 points per game for his career (on 14 shots per game).
With Westbrook, there's an efficiency crisis.
So far this season, Westbrook is averaging 20.5 points on 18.2 field-goal attempts per game, converting on just 7.4 of them. What's worse is that Westbrook is averaging 4.1 three-point field-goal attempts per game, while knocking down just 1.3 a night.
By comparison, Paul's selfless style of play has resulted in far greater efficiency, evident by his career PER of 25.5, which is more than 10 points above the average of 15.
Westbrook, on the other hand, has a career PER of 19.9, just about five points above the average.
Patience seems to be a foreign concept to Westbrook, as he can often be found pushing the pace when there's no need.
Whether it's ill-advised drives to the basket or premature pull-up jumpers in transition, Westbrook's DNA simply isn't programmed to let him play like your average point guard.
Consider for a moment this breakdown of Westbrook's performance in Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals:
What we see throughout the majority of this footage is that Westbrook often finds himself isolated with the ball on the perimeter and chooses not to make the conventional pass, instead settling for contested jumpers and drives.
Westbrook has point guard tendencies in that he loves to handle the ball, but he tends to get very dribble-happy. Excessive dribbling results in busted pick-and-rolls, an art which point guards like Paul have perfected.
Westbrook's bright spots come when he takes shots quick off the dribble or can be fed the rock with a full head of steam moving towards the basket.
It's easy to be critical of a player whose game doesn't conform to our expectations of what a classic point guard should be, but it's hard not to appreciate Westbrook's talents.
While there may not be a great talent divide between Paul and Westbrook, there's a stylistic one that's too great to ignore.
Paul plays the position in a way that purists would applaud, while Westbrook's hybrid style continues to ignite fierce debate among fans.
Note: Stats used in this article are accurate as of Tuesday November 20th.
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