In another way to keep us Thunder fans excited while we wait for another season to start, I wanted to take some time to remind us how grateful we should be to have Russell Westbrook on our squad. Looking back through NBA history, I asked myself, were there any genetic predecessors? Or is he his own supercar prototype?
5. Anfernee Hardaway
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway sits at #5 for me, as he was a point guard and definitely had a few years where he combined freak athleticism and in-game impact. He was super agile and could leap quickly off both legs. He went on a three-year tear in the league when he, Shaq, and the Magic was everyone’s favorite team of the future. Unfortunately Penny’s greatness as a player was cut short due to injuries and he never quite fulfilled his promise as the 2nd coming of Magic Johnson.
4. Steve Francis
Steve Francis is one of the first ones that comes to mind when I think of comparisons. They both had a similar build, were physically stronger and quicker than most other guards, and could explode on their way to the rim. Both are great penetrators who could use either their ball handling skills of athleticism to get into the lane. Francis had about as much potential as Westbrook early in his career, but faded fast. Unlike Westbrook, Francis never evolved in his game by becoming a well-rounded point guard. He did not share in the longevity to compete at a high level as Westbrook but he was fun to watch none the less as most remember his duel with Vince Carter at the ‘00 Slam Dunk Competition. An authority no less than Jeff Van Gundy had this to say:
Jeff Van Gundy: "I coached Russell Westbrook...His name was Steve Francis."— Chris Martin Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) July 18, 2013
3. Clyde Drexler
What is Clyde Drexler doing on here? Wasn’t he more of a big guard like Tracy McGrady, and didn’t he play shooting guard? Is it even fair to compare current players to those from a more classical time when positions were more rigid? I make mention of him because he also shared a similar style of driving to the rim, maximizing his athleticism. They didn’t call him “Clyde the Glide” for nothing. Drexler had a huge scoring ability early in his career although he didn’t maintain it to the degree that his rival Michael Jordan did. Despite Drexler’s taller frame, had the two gone head to head, Westbrook probably would have eaten him alive. As Bill Simmons says in The Book of Basketball, Drexler may have lost a bit of his edge because of Jordan tearing him apart in the ‘92 finals and the following Olympic scrimmages. But the two make for an interesting comparison with the potential for scoring, soaring and, oh yeah, Drexler actually was a good and underrated distributor who finally earned his ring feeding Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston.
2. Oscar Robertson
Of coarse we need to mention Oscar Robertson with Westbrook. Westbrook conquered a new peak by hitting the mountain peak Robertson had built 55 years earlier. The triple-double stat had been looming over the league as an impossible feat to ever be repeated. But records are meant to be broken.
What would Westbrook’s ‘17 and ‘18 seasons have looked like without the previous Mr. Triple-Double’s mountain peak achievement? All we know is we wouldn’t be having that conversation of can anyone ever average a triple double for a season again. The two probably didn’t share much of the same style, as Westbrook is more of a driver and The Big O scored more off his mid range jumper. What makes them such a strong argument for their comparison however is they way they impacted the game from three different angles. Thank you Roberston for setting the mark and thank you Westbrook for finally being that guy to reach it again.
1. Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose, who entered the league the same year as Westbrook, is the closest modern day replica. He is the most similar in size, ability and style. Rose was drafted #1 overall in the 2008 NBA draft (Westbrook was picked 4th) and Rose won a league MVP award in 2011.
The big question is, who was the real prototype? We’ll never know, as Rose has been a shell of his early before his ACL injury in 2012. But up to that point, Rose’s style of attacking the rim and ability to create offense for himself and teammates stood out. While Rose did not put up the high numbers across the board in rebounds, assists, and scoring in the way that Westbrook has, those Bulls had a much more balanced approach to share the load.
Some final thoughts to take from this as I pondered on comparisons from today and from years past. As I have mentioned, when I have considered that there have been a quite a handful of players similar to Westbrook who have come into the league and made a powerful mark. What stands out to me is that many of them had their careers either cut short entirely due to injury or the relied on their physical attributes to their own detriment, like Francis. What’s really intriguing is that Westbrook has a style of play that could make him susceptible to injury like Hardaway and Rose, but Westbrook has largely remained injury-free.
Such health has enabled Westbrook to play at a high level for such a long time and he is getting better. He has hit the triple-double average not once but twice in his 9th and 10th seasons. The talent, combined with the longevity, is what makes Westbrook a stand out and a prototype of his own freakish mold. Thank you Russell Westbrook, us Thunder fans are grateful for what we have!
Which player is the most similar to Westbrook?
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