Is the Constant Critique of Russell Westbrook's Game Fair or Foul?
Russell Westbrook isn't a conventional point guard, but crucifying him for it is definitively absurd.
Much is constantly made of Westbrook's itchy trigger finger and his supposed selfishness. And while the point guard does shoot more than most floor generals, the generalized assertions that continue to be made about him are utterly wrong.
Westbrook does attempt more shots per game (18.9) than Kevin Durant (18.5), but is that enough to call him selfish?
Of course not.
As a point guard, Westbrook has the ball in his hands to begin possessions more than Durant does. It's in his nature to attack the rim first, so to chastise him for hoisting up less than a shot more per game than his prolific comrade makes no sense.
It makes even less sense when you consider Durant embraced (via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman) the concept of Westbrook taking more shots than him only last season:
We’re worse when I take more shots. Like I said, that guy doesn’t know a thing. I don’t think he watches us. I think he just looks at the stats. And traditionally, a point guard is not supposed to take more shots than everybody else on the team. But we’re better when he does do that and he’s aggressive. And I’m better when I’m out there facilitating, rebounding, defending and being more efficient on my shots with less shots.
That Durant openly accepts such a reality should be enough. But for some reason, it isn't.
If Westbrook wasn't passing or acting as the primary catalyst on the offensive end, I would see a case to be made against him. Yet he's doing just the opposite, especially this year.
Of any season, the 2012-13 campaign should be the last one someone points to and concludes that Westbrook is a self-serving, teammate-ignoring gunner.
To date, Westbrook is averaging a career-high 8.4 assists per game. He's also assisting on 41 percent of his team's field goals while on the floor, the fifth-best mark in the league and second-highest of his career.
Are we supposed to ignore this because he's not what we would consider an altruistic point guard?
I get that the Chris Pauls and Rajon Rondos (my condolences, Boston) are revered to no end, and rightfully so. But I see Westbrook's originality as innovating, not a hindrance.
Sure, he's less than reserved when it comes to his shot-selection, but his 5.4 rebounds a night rank fourth in the league among all guards. Crashing the glass isn't indicative of an authentic point man, so should we chastise his effort there? He's also 10th in win shares (6.0), an elevated mark considering he plays on an essential super-team, next to a top-two talent. Should we persecute him for this?
Westbrook's skill set is unique and his tendencies are foreign to many, but he—especially now—has earned some respect. He's the only player in the league maintaining a minimum average of 20 points, five rebounds and eights assists per game. Not LeBron James, not Paul, not Rondo and not Durant—only Westbrook. That has to count for something.
And it's also something to keep in mind when he has an off shooting night or doesn't meet expectations.
He was just 6-of-22 from the field in the Oklahoma City Thunder's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, and 3-of-16 in their loss to the Golden State Warriors. Ugly? Of course, but there is something other than a "Westbrook must change" mantra to be taken away from such performances.
Notice that when Westbrook has nights like those, the Thunder struggle to win or ultimately lose. That's how important he is to this team.
Six of Oklahoma City's 11 losses have come when Westbrook scores less than 20 points and nine have come when he's dished out five or more assists. And we're supposed to believe he needs to score less and pass more?
If that's the case, then should we ask for—dare I say it—Derrick Rose to attempt fewer shots upon his return?
Somewhat lost in all this is the fact that Rose and Westbrook are nearly one in the same. Both are shoot-first point guards, yet Westbrook is forced to wade through far more criticism than Rose.
Why is that fair? Is it because Rose is quiet and humble while Westbrook is exuberant and boisterous? Because Rose is the end-all for the Chicago Bulls and Westbrook plays alongside Durant?
I'm sorry, but that's not good enough. If we can appreciate what Rose does for the Bulls and the game of basketball, Westbrook should be no different.
Like it or not, the Thunder are dominant because of Westbrook, not in spite of him. They score more with him on the floor, and he's holding opposing point guards to a 14.6 PER per 48 minutes, below the league average of 15.
Just for kicks, let it be known that the most genuine of floor generals in Rondo hasn't had as much success. Not only is he allowing opposing point men to post a PER of 15.1 per 48 minutes, but the Boston Celtics have actually scored more points when he's off the floor. And yet, we wouldn't dare suggest his team accomplishes what it does in spite of him.
Does Russell Westbrook need to change the way he plays?
Does Russ need to work on raising his subpar 41.4-percent shooting percentage? Must he take even fewer chances on the defensive end?
Yes, but every player in the league has room for improvement, including the almighty Rose. Westbrook is no exception, nor should he be—especially in terms of critiquing his game.
Just like any superstar, we must take the good with the bad when it comes to Oklahoma City's point guard.
But we also have to understand that this abiding castigation is unjust, that this standard he is often held to disparages effective individualism.
And that when it comes to Westbrook, the good absolutely outweighs the bad.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
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