Ranking the Top 10 Point Guards in the NBA

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4. Russell Westbrook

Mar 1, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for a case study on the evolution of Russell Westbrook, look no further than Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.  The glowing review from his coach and teammates after he took charge in the final 90 seconds of the game shows just how far he’s come after taking the brunt of the criticism for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s shortcomings the past several years.

That’s not to say that the criticism was entirely inaccurate.  Westbrook had a penchant for trying to take over games and looking to shoot first and pass second, and that doesn’t sit well with the masses when you have the best scorer in the NBA as your teammate.  Especially when the position you play is traditionally associated with the following words: unselfish, facilitator, floor general, assists, and so on.

Many attributed this to ego, and there isn’t a solid history in the NBA of two “alpha dog” players coexisting on the same team without one of them making some sort of sacrifice.  The offseason trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets seems to have alleviated some of the tension, but every now and the fire that drives Westbrook to be the player he is causes some friction amongst his teammates.

Westbrook’s strengths as a player have always been related to his out-of-this-world athleticism and the havoc he can wreak on the opposition in the open floor and as a tenacious defender.  While a coaching staff can preach all they want about slowing things down and playing under control, that can seem counter-intuitive to someone like Westbrook, who’s gotten to where he is precisely because of his ability to play with a frenetic, breakneck style of play.

The only person that can ultimately bring about that change is the Westbrook.  You’d have to think that losing to the Miami Heat in the Finals last year caused him to do a bit of soul searching on what it would take from him to get his team over that hump.

To his credit, Westbrook seems to be making an effort this season to take on that leadership role and cater his style of play to the needs of the team, and his stats are starting to reflect that.  While his scoring is still right around 23 points per game, his assists have jumped from 5.5 per game last season to 7.8 in 2013.  The need for him to maintain that level of production as a scorer now that Harden is gone is evident, and he’s done it on fewer field goal attempts.  Not by a lot, but the fact that it’s down shows that he’s trying.

As a point guard, Westbrook still has room to grow, and it’s a testament to his natural abilities that he’s number four on this list.  He’s a player that any team would love to have on their roster, but if he wants to maximize his potential with the Thunder, he’s going to have to heed the advice of a certain someone who knows something about reaching the mountain top of his chosen profession.