“The notion that Russ can’t win is overstated. He’s been to the NBA Finals, he’s played in 4 Conference Finals. He’s won more than Steve Nash, and Nash had great teams too. Russ is not this loser where there’s no way he can win.”— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) August 3, 2021
— @Chris_Broussard pic.twitter.com/Tgbqs7ydP5
We’ve heard it time and time again – you can’t win a title with Russ as your best player. But guess what – only a handful of active NBA superstars have proven they can lead their teams to a championship as a definitive No.1 option. LeBron James did it, Steph Curry did it, Kawhi Leonard did it, and just recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo did it.
Kevin Durant didn’t prove it, despite winning two Finals MVPs during his run with the Warriors – that was Curry’s team. James Harden is yet to make his NBA Finals debut, Anthony Davis is looking more and more like the perfect No. 2 on a championship team, and guys like Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid still haven’t made any significant noise in the postseason. And yet, Westbrook is the only one labeled as someone who can’t win. The only question is, why?
This is the most generic anti-Westbrook argument, but it’s also the most common one. His playstyle, although explosive and uncompromising, is the most off-putting factor for your average Russ hater. It’s also why most of them would say he’s not a winner.
Westbrook is one of those players you either adore or despise; there’s no in-between. But as always, extremes are where the objectivity disappears. The ones who adore him would say his numbers alone make him the greatest all-around player in the history of basketball, and that’s false. But the ones who despise him would allow the “how he’s doing it” part to overshadow the more important one – how his performance translates to wins. The byproduct of such an approach is the “Russ can’t win narrative,” and that’s also false.
Others who can look past his style of play push the same narrative for one simple reason; his entire NBA career, Russ has been around a championship-worthy talent, and he never got it done. And unlike the playstyle-based argument, this one is fair. The only issue is, it also lacks objectivity.
Theoretically, he should’ve done more playing alongside Kevin Durant in OKC. But let’s not forget, the two made the NBA Finals as 23-year-olds. Over the next two years, they made the Western Conference Semifinals as well as the Western Conference Finals, only to have their next year ruined with injuries – Durant only played 27 games with a foot injury. In their final season with the Thunder, KD and Westbrook lost in the WCF to the Warriors.
So despite losing James Harden after the 2012 NBA Finals, it’s fair to say the duo of Russ and KD should’ve done more. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything. The same goes for Russ’ post-Durant era with the Thunder when he played alongside Paul George, as well as his one-year stint with The Beard in Houston and Bradley Beal in Washington.
Don’t get me wrong, some of those playoff exits were ugly. But that doesn’t mean Westbrook is not a winner. It just means teams he has played for haven’t been able to go all the way and secure the ultimate NBA prize. If that’s the criterion, so many all-time greats aren’t winners. But very few have that label attached to them. So let’s remove it from Russ.
He might not be a champion, yet at least, but Russell Westbrook is a winner.