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Russell Westbrook vs Ty Lawson: who would you take?

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Russell Westbrook is often seen as "elite" while the Nuggets' Ty Lawson is viewed as "good." Are we misjudging how the two compare?

Dilip Vishwanat

The Wages of Wins site is always tinkering to see if there are other, better ways to consider how we value players. One of their crew, Dre, decided to open up a can of worms by wondering why exactly Russell Westbrook is considered an "elite" guard while the Nuggets' Ty Lawson is only considered "good."

Dre is admittedly a Nuggets fan, but he's also good with numbers, if you're familiar with WoW at all. Here is what he had to say:

"The reason Westbrook is considered elite is because he puts up a high point totals. Last season Westbrook finished 4th in the league in points scored behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. The issue is when we examine Westbrook's amazing offense it falls apart quickly. His shooting costs his teams wins. His free throw shooting keeps his scoring positive. However, he's still half as effective at scoring as Lawson. When it comes to offense, Westbrook is bad at everything except for free throws and offensive rebounding. And those can't make up for the his terrible passing and high turnovers."

Obviously this sentiment might be considered heresy in these parts, it is worth while to take a look at how Dre compares the two players. If you look at their performance on a per minutes basis, Lawson compares favorably. Meanwhile, Westbrook score more points, but Dre argues that it comes at the expense of shooting too many shots.

If this is indeed the case, has the league completely mis-valued both players?

Here is my take, for what it is worth. While the numbers speak for themselves and Lawson is certainly part of the upper echelon of point guards in the league, Westbrook has something that Lawson does not, and it is difficult to see it in things like PER, which are dependent on large sample sizes. On a situational basis though, they are less indicative, which is why for years we saw PER king LeBron James fail to win a championship. There is still something that distinguishes players at specific moments of games. For a historical example, Karl Malone was a guy who had great PER production, but he was never able to break through and win a championship.

For Westbrook, I think he possesses a top end gear that he can crack into when his team needs it, and that ability distinguishes him from many other players who may possess better pure PG skills. How many guards in this league can you say that, in a situation where, when the stakes are high and his team is struggling, he can score 20 points in a quarter and keep his squad in a position to win? We know Chris Paul can. And Russell Westbrook can too.

To me, that's the difference.

What do you think?