Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) prepares to shoot a free throw against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Keane)
It’s been a historic month for Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. With his Thunder in the middle of a climb up the Western playoff ladder and team face Kevin Durant in and out the lineup with foot injuries, Westbrook has been flat out amazing. He’s already recorded three triple-doubles for the month of February. In fact, February has been all Westbrook, as he’s averaged 30 points, 10 assists and nearly nine rebounds per game. Just insane production coming from the explosive 6-foot-3 lead guard. Former NBA player-turned-ESPN commentator,Brad Daughtery this week went as far as proclaiming, “Russell Westbrook is the best player in the NBA right now.” But, with LeBron James rounding into form and both James Harden and Stephen Curry having MVP-like campaigns, the question must be asked: is Russell Westbrook the best player in the NBA? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debates the question.
Riley: Daughtery might be on to something. There isn’t a player in the league with Westbrook’s combination of explosion, ferocity and fearlessness. He wants to win every time he touches the court and his ball handling and quick first step give him the right to attack the rim at any given moment against any player. He straps down on defense, rebounds like a forward and can challenge any opponent, even his own teammate, for leading scorer in any contest. His February numbers have been as brutal as the cold front across the continent but his overall numbers speak MVP when you factor he’s averaging 26 points, eight assists and almost seven rebounds per night. Add in the career-high 2.1 steals he’s averaging a game and he’s never been better. He’s still erratic, he still has an attitude problem and he still neglects his teammates, at times, but he’s Allen Iverson reincarnated with more hops and a bigger frame.
Green: His teammate, Durant, still has a case to be made as the best player in the league, but you can’t just ignore Harden and Curry and what they’re doing to propel their teams this season. Daughtery made sure to emphasize “right now” in his declaration and, keeping that in mind, it’s hard to overlook what Curry has done this year. Curry not only pilots a team with the NBA’s best record “right now,” but also he’s been outstanding himself, putting up nearly 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds per night. Oklahoma is still trying to work their way up from the eighth seed in the Western Conference while Golden State is on pace for home court advantage throughout the postseason, so you could easily say that he’s the best player right now. Westbrook has had an outstanding month of February, but let’s not let that fact cloud our judgement. LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA followed in no particular order by Durant, Harden and Curry.
Riley: As injuries piled up, the Thunder started the year 5-13. They currently sit second in the Northwest Division and are only a run away from moving into the middle spot of the conference. What Westbrook has done to carry the load this year has been even more impressive than what Durant did last season with an ailing Westbrook, earning him the MVP. Personally, I think the Thunder are going to win the West once Durant returns and their newly acquired pieces become more acclimated – but they’ll only go as far as Westbrook can take them. With rumors flying that Durant might potentially bolt to join the Washington Wizards in free agency in 2016, the team could be ready to shift controls to Westbook, and he’s loudly establishing himself as the best point guard and player in the Association. LeBron and Harden can only dream about possessing Westbrook’s quickness, and Curry can only imagine being the size of the hard-charging Westbrook. He’s the ultimate player right now. And, he’s basically un-guardable one-on-one. James will never be the scorer that Westbrook is, and there aren’t too many players in the league that can match Westbrook’s intensity. If he wins the MVP this year is there really anybody who will disagree with the selection? The last time we saw a point guard dominate the scoreboard like this was back in 2011 when Derrick Rose won MVP and even he wasn’t as impressive then as Westbrook is now.
Green: Honestly, we could really hand James the MVP trophy every year and call it a day. Cleveland is on pace to finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and this is coming from a team who selected first overall in last summer’s draft. Keep in mind that the player they selected in the draft isn’t even on the team and you get the idea of how important James is. Now, could Westbrook have arrived in Cleveland last summer and pushed the Cavs to where they are right now? Absolutely not. However, is there any doubt that James could swap teams with Westbrook right now and the Thunder would have a better record? Well, he’s done more with less so I firmly believe so. Versatility is a strong part of both players’ games but I just can’t see Westbrook elevating the Cavs the way James has done. Frankly, James could probably go to any team in the NBA right now and they would challenge for a playoff berth. You can’t say that with all players regardless of stats, but you can say that with James. And it’s that reason alone why I still feel like he’s the best in the league and will be until he retires.