A sizable contingent of supposed NBA experts think Russell Westbrook is a shooting guard, and some even believe the Oklahoma City Thunder would be better off without him. Don’t count coach Scott Brooks among them. At the team’s media day, Brooks said his much-maligned star “is the best point guard in basketball.”
Via ESPN’s Royce Young:
“I believe Russell is the best point guard in basketball,” Brooks said, unprompted. “That’s happened over time. I’ve seen Russell every practice, every game, every film session and he’s really put a lot of time into being the best point guard in basketball.”
We’ve long been proponents of Westbrook. Few players in the league can influence a game the myriad of ways Russ does, and fewer still do so with such an unrelenting, energetic fury. Now that Westbrook has developed into a creative playmaker, too, there’s certainly an argument to be made that he is indeed the best point guard in the world.
Russ wouldn’t exactly say otherwise, either.
As you’d expect, though, Westbrook concurred with his coach’s statement.
“I do,” he said. “I’m very honored to hear him say that, but that’s how I feel. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you…”
“I’ve felt that since I got in the league,” Westbrook said. “I mean, that’s my mindset. As a rookie, I came in and I felt like I was the best player on the floor every time I stepped on the floor. That’s just my mindset, that’s the way I’ve played since college. It’s not just this year or last year. It’s how I think when I get on the basketball floor.”
It’s that confidence which helps make Westbrook so great. He never believes he’s missing the next shot, never believes he’s turning the ball over on this possession, and never shies away from the moment. But it’s also that lack of control that keeps him from sitting atop the point guard throne completely unencumbered.
The casual fan’s criticisms of Westbrook, while wildly overblown, are real: He too often settles for off-dribble jumpers and is prone to tunnel-vision. Those, though, aren’t the relative deficiencies that limit him most; Westbrook’s general combustibility is as big a benefit as it is a hindrance.
Instead, what’s really prohibiting Westbrook from usurping Chris Paul as basketball’s best floor general is his inconsistent play on the other end. Russ has the tools to be among the several most valuable perimeter defenders in basketball. He’s long, strong, cat-quick, and might be the fastest player the league has from end-to-end.
But most often, Westbrook is a net zero defensively nonetheless. He guesses wrong on pick-and-rolls, gets lost off-ball, and falls prey to mental and physical laziness much too frequently for a player of his standing. There’s a reason why it was notable when Westbrook bottled-up Mike Conley, Paul, and Tony Parker for brilliant, fleeting stretches in the playoffs – it was a rare occurrence.
And that’s the scary part about Westbrook for the rest of the league. He’s already the second best point guard and among the handful of best players in the league, and is only now scratching the surface of the defender he can consistently become. If he develops into an All-Defense worthy performer and just slightly improves his shot selection, Westbrook would steal MVP votes from his teammate and reigning winner of the award – that’s how good he is already, and how good he could be still.
Do you agree with Brooks?
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