Russell Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players I’ve ever seen pick up a basketball. His intensity, out of this world athleticism, and sheer brute strength is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a point guard. Russ has already earned his place among the ten greatest point guards ever, and it is for that reason that we cannot allow another potential first round exit to slide so easily.
Last year I wrote an article on the ten greatest point guards ever and I put Russ at the number nine spot on that list. As a MVP winner, multiple All-NBA team member, and perennial all-star he deserved that spot but I couldn’t put him higher for the simple fact that I haven’t seen him do more as the number one option on his own team. Not only has he not lead his team to enough, but as a superstar MVP caliber player I would go as far as to say he has underachieved as well.
Let’s just compare Russ to a few of his contemporaries that I had on the list, I’ll be fair I wont even use the multiple time champions like Magic, Zeke, Curry, etc. Steve Nash never won a championship in his career but he had enough impact on his team to where you can still give him all the respect in the world cause he at least led them to something. Nash led the Suns to multiple 50 win seasons, two 60 win seasons, and three conference finals appearances.
Lets look at Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd won a championship as a older veteran player for the Mavericks in 2011 but that’s not whats important here. Kidd led the Nets to back to back finals appearances and granted they loss but again, he led them to something.
My point here is that Russ hasn’t led the Thunder to anything. In 2015 when KD missed the entire season due to injury Russ and the Thunder missed the playoffs despite Russ playing most of the season and since KD left to Golden State three years ago the Thunder have lost in the first round two years in a row, haven’t won 50 games yet despite having a MVP, two all defensive first team players, Steven Adams, and now (I’m not panicking yet) are down in this series against the Blazers.
I’m a fair NBA fan, I’m not hyper critical of guys who haven’t won a championship and that isn’t the end all be all for me. What I tend to pay attention to (And I hold Russ to a higher standard than this) is can you at least get your team to the playoffs consistently? Can you get your team out of the first round consistently? Can you lead them to at least one conference finals?
That is to me why Russ’s legacy is on the line. I’ve never been hyper critical of his triple-doubles cause I’ve always felt his triple doubles were vital to the success of the Thunder. I’ve only ever been critical of Russ and how he plays with other stars, especially stars who are better than him. And Russ deserves all the credit in the world for how he has played this season. He’s deferred to PG for most of the season and it shows as the Thunder were better (until PG’s shoulder injury) this season than last year, and he’s been excellent on the defensive end for the first time in years.
I’m not giving up on the Thunder just yet in this post-season. I believe they’re going to win this series and I’ve even gone as far as to pick them to go to the conference finals. But Russ has to lead this team out of the first round at least and he should be able to lead this team to the conference finals. They’re a better group than both of their potential opponents in the semi finals (Spurs/Nuggets).
Russell Westbrook is a top ten all time player, a MVP winner, and his career stat line will be among the 30 greatest career stat lines ever… and it is for that reason that he can’t lose this series, it is for that reason that he must lead this team to the conference finals. Every single player of his caliber has been able to lead a team to the conference finals at least and there should be no excuse for a player who is now 30 years old and still in the prime of his career.