Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images /

37. Russell Westbrook

  • Resume: 12 seasons, 1 regular season MVP, 9-time All-NBA selection, 9-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2-time NBA leader in scoring, 2-time NBA leader in assists, Seattle SuperSonics’/Oklahoma City Thunder’s all-time leading scorer, one of only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season (three times)
  • Stats: 23.2 PPG, 8.3 APG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, .437/.305/.799 shooting splits, 23.3 career PER, 101.1 win shares

Like Harden, it might seem a bit premature to include Russell Westbrook on a list like this, especially with so many questions about how much he really contributes to winning since he hasn’t gotten past the first round of the playoffs without Kevin Durant. Plus, there was the whole thing about Paul George asking for a trade out of town. However, also like Harden, leaving him off the list would be a classic case of overthinking.

In fact, you could make the case that Russ is more accomplished than CP3, another current point guard on this list, in terms of career accolades. He has a regular season MVP Award, is one of only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season and has made it to the NBA Finals and four conference finals appearances. Paul has … one conference finals appearance, in 2018.

Even for those who think Russ routinely pads his stats, that’s still a monumental achievement. To not only average 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game as a point guard, but do it while leading the league in scoring and carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 6-seed in the West in their first season without Durant? That was truly special, and something CP3 cannot claim either.

The 2016-17 campaign was one of a kind, and Westbrook became the face of the league that people tuned in nightly to watch. CP3 never had a season where he was the story of the entire association like that.

Case in point: Westbrook’s 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist triple-double against the Denver Nuggets in late April, which broke Oscar Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a single season, ended with a game-winning 3-pointer from damn near half-court and ensured the Nuggets would miss the playoffs.

Oh and yeah, he averaged a triple-double again the following two seasons, posting 25.4 points, a league-leading 10.3 assists and 10.1 rebounds per game in 2017-18. Sure, he only finished fifth in MVP voting because his team only won one more game than the year before with superior talent, but that’s beside the point. Three triple-double seasons!

In 2018-19 alone, he recorded the longest streak of consecutive triple-doubles (11), passed Gary Payton as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to record a 20-point, 20-assist, 20-rebound game.

There are glaring flaws in Westbrook’s game, of course. He’s a poor 3-point shooter, is prone to lapses on the defensive end and has historically struggled late in games with forcing shots and bad turnovers.

However, even though he and KD were never able to break through and win a title, that shouldn’t hold Russ off this list. He’s one of the NBA’s most fiery personas, a triple-double machine and the most athletic point guard the league has ever seen. He’s lightning in a bottle, only if you smashed that bottle at mid-court and let it wreak havoc on the arena.

#LetRussBeRuss has seen better days, especially after his short, failed stint in Houston got him exiled to the Washington Wizards. But even if his game won’t historically stack up to a floor general like Chris Paul’s, there’s no question Russ deserves a spot on this list as a former MVP and the reigning triple-double king.