Russell Westbrook is ranked No. 5 in the Sports Illustrated Top 100

Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Our mercurial but extremely talented point guard cracks Sports Illustrated's top 5 NBA players. Rob Mahoney offers his reasoning.

We covered Serge Ibaka being ranked 29th by Sports Illustrated in their Top 100 on Wednesday. Two days later on Friday, they released their top 10 list. Russell Westbrook just cracked their top 5, making it into the last spot, while his teammate Kevin Durant is at #2.

The main narrative on Westbrook has always been his unconventional style of play and the criticism he normally takes for it. However, Rob Mahoney pointed out Westbrook's sheer ability to create shots for himself and also for the big men he plays with as some of the reasons to justify his ranking.

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (G, 24)
2012-13 stats: 34.9 MPG, 23.2 PPG, 7.4 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 43.8 FG%, 32.3 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 23.9 PER, 11.6 Win Shares, +5.3 RAPM

(...)

Yet the Thunder happily live with those wilder patches for the sake of employing a shot-creating dynamo. In addition to manufacturing his own offense at an elite level, Westbrook is also the key to unlocking Oklahoma City's limited bigs as offensive threats. Never was that more evident than in the 2013 playoffs, where Westbrook's brutally timed meniscus tear forced Serge Ibaka, in particular, to go without. Predictably, Ibaka's scoring efficiency suffered; the once-viable scorer converted just 37.7 percent of his field goals in the Thunder's second-round series against the Grizzlies, as he sorely missed the easy opportunities that Westbrook's drives yield. During the regular season, that factor alone made all the difference for Ibaka, who converted a terrific 58.8 percent of his field goals when sharing the court with Westbrook, and a dim 40.3 percent* when operating otherwise (though to be fair, Ibaka only played 194 minutes without Westbrook during the regular season).

This ranking places Westbrook third among point guards (behind Chris Paul at #3 and Tony Parker #4) and clearly in the top tier of point guards (Derrick Rose, still a question mark, is ranked #12 while young guns Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are ranked #15 and #20 respectively). Westbrook is also ranked over such high-profile names as Tim Duncan (#6), Dwight Howard (#7), Dwyane Wade (#8), Kobe Bryant (#9) and Carmelo Anthony (#10).

As conflicting as Westbrook's style of play is to some people, it's fair to say at this point that he's established himself in that highest tier of point guards by consensus opinion (unless you wanted to give Chris Paul his own tier, which an argument could be built for). From there, names like Parker and Rose will be shuffled around with Westbrook depending on whom you ask, with Curry and Irving thrown in from time to time.

Frankly, I'll be the first to say that I've had trouble coming to grips with Westbrook's style of play in the past. The attitude, the aggressive and sometimes bordering on selfish mentality on offense, and the lack of care at times are all very frustrating. Those are attributes that we've been taught to dislike in athletes, and it's especially compromising when he's a star player for one of my favorite sports teams.

With that said, a clear mind can see all the positives that Westbrook offers. He attacks the rim like few do, and for a team with limited playmakers in the Thunder, it's huge to have a player that can make things happen like Westbrook can. He's impressively improved his playmaking to the point where he was tied for seventh in the league last season, and as Mahoney pointed out, he has great chemistry with Serge Ibaka and even Kendrick Perkins. With Westbrook, the pros outweigh the cons, and enough so that he can establish himself as in that tier of superstar point guards.

Love him or hate him, the general public at least has acknowledged Westbrook as very, very good. This ranking helps to establish him as a (borderline) top-5 player in the NBA, status which he has been sniffing for a while. The criticism will continue to come, but so too will the counterarguments to that criticism–and they're beginning to win out. At this point, I'm more concerned with Westbrook bouncing back from that torn meniscus than any perceived hot-headedness. What about you?

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