When the top scientists in the universe got together to create the perfect basketball team, they chose to use ingredients basketball players of the past to instill in their new Frankenstein-ian Hoop Cyborgs. They wanted to give their post players the pivot moves of Tim Duncan and the defensive ability of Bill Russell. They chose to give their Centers the dominance of Shaquille O’Neal and create their small forwards as the perfect molding of Larry Bird, LeBron James, and Scottie Pippen. They picked Michael Jordan as their perfect model of a shooting guard, but injected some Ray Allen into his shooting stroke to make him even more unstoppable.
But when they sat down to discuss the ingredients for the perfect point guard, complications and arguments arose. The scientists couldn’t come to the conclusion of what a perfect point guard was, the kind of point guard that would be dominant in any situation, in any system, and with any collection of teammates around him. “He should be big and have the court vision of Magic Johnson,” some said. “He should be the most unselfish passer of all time, like John Stockton,” added another. “He needs to be dominant on both sides of the floor, like Gary Payton,” one of them argued. Some wanted the tenacity of Isiah Thomas. Some shouted Jason Kidd, another countered with Steve Nash, and the younger ones wanted Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.
They crumpled up their blueprints and decided to start from scratch. Before they could construct a ‘perfect point guard’, they had to first decide what a point guard was.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, as the Oklahoma City Thunder notched up another victory to take their record to 23-6, a certain new age point guard stood basked in the glory of yet another dominant night, putting up 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in a 124-94 of the Houston Rockets. 24 year old Russell Westbrook is far from the perfect model of the point guards of the past, but as he carves out yet another impressive season, it is getting harder and harder to ignore his burgeoning skills. Some (like this author!) even argued that he would be more useful at the shooting guard position, but regardless of what his critics, fans, or haters choose to think or say, Westbrook continues to be dominant.
No, Westbrook’s game is far from perfect, but there were few, if any, point guards with the perfect game. Even the top scientists in the universe will struggle to come up with the ideal model to replicate. Magic was probably the greatest ever at the position, but even he was known to be a sieve on the defensive end. It is the same issue with two-time MVP Steve Nash. Stockton, the career leader in assists and steals, was never tested in the NBA outside the Jazz pick-and-roll system and wasn’t blessed with the athleticism of some of the new age PGs. PGs like Thomas and Rose have been great scorers but not elite-level creators on offense. Jason Kidd was the perfect leader but didn’t have a jump shot in his prime. Chris Paul has shown flashes of the complete package, but he will have to await judgment until he achieves more success in the postseason.
The one thing that binds together all the great point guards in history is – surprisingly – how different they are from each other. The true strength of a great PG is the ability to dominate through the course of time in any team and in any situation. A good leader from the back, the team’s quarterback, should have the ability to lead any team to its maximum possible efficiency. Magic, Thomas, Stockton, Payton, Kidd, Frazier, Oscar Robertson, Cousy, Nash all did it in their own ways. Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo are still doing it.
With the definition of the position changing so fluidly with time, why should Westbrook try to be like those in the past? Blessed with elite-level athleticism, blinding speed, and a strong jump shot (when it’s working), Westbrook is the new brand of NBA point guards. The Point Guard of the Future. Point Guard X. He doesn’t need to follow any models of those from the past because he is his own model.
This season, he is averaging 21.4 points per game but a career high in assists (8.7) and rebounds (5.2). Although his field goal percentage is down, he is shooting a career best 34.2 percent from the three point line. In his fifth year in the NBA, Westbrook continues to mature not just to become a better leader but an overall better basketball player, someone who can count themselves in the league’s top 5-10 players this season. The Thunder have obviously benefitted and rode his form to their impressive record.
Of course, there are still holes in his game. Anyone watching OKC on a regular basis can see that Westbrook has flashes of selfishness, where he ignores his teammates for ill-advised shots. This wouldn’t have been a big problem except that one of his teammates is Kevin Durant, probably the most dangerous scorer in the league. Still, Westbrook has taken massive strides forward this season as a playmaker. OKC are still a young team, and he has dedicated his future to them and to Durant. They have nowhere else to up but up.
Back in the lab, the scientists finally come to a compromise. They agree that there is no perfect point guard to trace out their cyborg replica from. They decide to use the best skills of them all to make the point guard cocktail. In the end, they sprinkle a little bit of Westbrook in their potion too.
It is tough to place him under any of the strict ‘positional’ pigeonholes of the NBA. Russell Westbrook is not a true point guard because, as NBA history has shown us, there is no such thing as a true point guard. Westbrook is a great basketball player, and as long as he continues to play great basketball, there is nothing that can stop him.