ESPN analyst and personality Stephen A. Smith is well known for his ability to stir up controversy. Yesterday he took to social media to declare his selections for the top 5 current point guards in the NBA. The controversial part of the post was not as much the five names on the list, but the one name left off: Russell Westbrook.
The list included Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Luka Doncic. Of course, any “top 5” list ranking top athletes in a given sport will likely result in “snub” accusations and the hurt feelings of certain fans.
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Yet the timing of this post really highlighted Smith’s central claim that all NBA fans were able to clearly read between the lines: Russ might be breaking records, but his game is not the game of an all-time great player.
Unfortunately for Stephen A. Smith, many NBA fans choose to not take his hot takes too seriously. This is one of his worst ever. The only reason to leave Russell Westbrook off this list is nothing but disrespect.
Love Stephen A Smith but I don’t understand why he keeps on being critical of Russell Westbrook. Rings don’t need to justify a player’s legacy
— Sean (@IDontSingh1) May 4, 2021
Actually Westbrook is a TOP 2 Point Guard Right Now
When we try and rank overall greatness on the basketball court, there is no more important attribute than shooting, actually putting the ball through the hoop, a trait in which Steph is unmatched. When Stephen A. emphatically exclaims that Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, he is right on the money.
But this was a list of the best point guards in the league. That begs the question: what really is the purpose of a point guard? USA Basketball defines the role of a point guard as follows:
The point guard runs the offense and watches the backcourt. His role is so important to the team that he really is an extension of the coach on the floor. He must have the following qualities, but above all, his ego must not be so inflated that it interferes with his basketball judgment:
Instinctive knowledge of the game
A good ball handler and passer
Possess speed and quickness of foot
Ability to read defenses and play good hard-nosed defense
Ability to hit the outside shot when left open
There’s only one attribute above that Curry is far and above better than Westbrook — his ability to hit the outside shot. In every other category, Westbrook is either clearly superior or arguably comparable. There’s a reason why the outside shot attribute is last on this list. The point guard is the player that is supposed to make all other players on his team better, and that is what Westbrook excels at, even more so than Curry.
If you have watched the Warriors this season, you know that they have been utilizing Draymond Green in some kind of “point-forward” role, giving Green a much higher assists average (8.7) than Curry’s (5.8). Sorry Stephen A, being the best shooter in the league does not automatically make you the best point guard. In this discussion, why do we value Steph’s outside shooting more than Westbrook’s massive assist and rebound numbers?
Choosing Harden over Westbrook on this list right now is straight disrespectful
Casual fans of the NBA may be confused at why James Harden, who has spent the entirety of his career is classified as a shooting guard, is even on this list. Earlier in the season, Kyrie Irving declared to the media that Harden was now the point guard, after it was apparent that he was the player with the best court vision, passing ability, and basketball IQ needed to be the floor general for the Nets’ high octane offensive attack.
If Harden was currently balling like he was several weeks ago, then the decision to pick him over Westbrook on this list would have still been wrong, but at least it would be more understandable. But Harden has not played a game in almost a month. He has already reaggravated his hamstring injury once, and his return to the court is still not imminent.
Triple doubles: stat padding? Nope. Just monster play
While Harden is still hanging out on the sidelines, Russell Westbrook is racking up triple-doubles nightly and is carrying the Washington Wizards on his back all the way from the bottom of the standings to now an extremely likely place in the play-in tournament. The man is now 1 triple-double away from breaking the all-time record set by the great Oscar Robertson, who is commonly thought of as a top 2-3 point guard of all time.
Let’s dispel the ridiculous lie that Westbrook’s triple-doubles are somehow the result of selfish play or “stat padding.” Triple doubles are simply evidence of the massive ways in which Russ impacts the game every night.
Where Russell Westbrook stands on the all-time list of great NBA point guards is an interesting question to discuss. Whether or not Russ is a top 5 point guard right now is not a question worth discussion. Please, Stephen A., put some more respect on this man’s name.