What makes a great NBA player? Right off the bat, the first thing that comes to mind is championships. After all, the debate for the G.O.A.T. essentially boils down to Michael Jordan’s Finals record to LeBron James’. Maybe, it is leadership and how a player carries themselves. Or one’s ability to elevate the play of others around them.
No matter how one defines greatness, it is time to recognize Russell Westbrook as one of the best point guards of all time. On Monday night, the Washington Wizard guard broke Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record, as he recorded his 182nd of his career. Previously, Robertson owned the record since 1974 – which until Westbrook seemed unmatchable.
Now, there is no denying Westbrook is one of the league’s top players of his era. Since entering the league in 2008, Westbrook has made nine All-Star games, nine All-NBA teams, won an MVP award and has been the scoring champion two times. Yet, it is his recent run that has been both his most impressive, and most criticized of his career.
Westbrook’s Criticized Run
In his earlier days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook was the Robin to Kevin Durant’s Batman. The duo never made it over the hump, as their lone Finals appearance in 2012 ended with the Miami Heat hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. And as the world knows, Durant would go onto join the enemy in the Golden State Warriors following their Western Conference Finals loss in 2015.
That led Westbrook to take the reigns as the Thunders leader. With that, Westbrook began his astonishing triple-double run. In 2016, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, though lost in round one of the playoffs. That trend would continue through 2018 until the Thunder dealt Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.
There, Westbrook never exactly found his footing alongside former Thunder teammate James Harden. For the first time in three years, he did not average a triple-double on the season. And with his Western Conference Semifinals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook faced more criticism than ever, as many believed he could never succeed with his playing style. Thus, casting a dark shadow on Westbrook’s career.
Legacy of Russell Westbrook
Except, the simple fact of the matter is it should not. While Westbrook may not be the type of player to put a team on his back and win it all, he is still one of the best point guards of all time. All a head coach can ever ask is for his players to give it their all on any given night. And few have displayed that better than Westbrook, who fights on every possession on both sides of the court.
Each player in history has a way they have left their mark. Players like Steph Curry and Harden are among the most prolific shooters in NBA history. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Durant win with their size and guard-like ability. For Westbrook, he does it by showing out every night as if it is his last game.
And for that reason alone, Russell Westbrook deserves to be recognized as one of the league’s best point guards in history.