Continuing to fill the void left without live sports, the First Take crew tackled the ever-complicated and often polarizing Russell Westbrook discussion today. Stephen A. Smith started off by exclaiming that Westbrook is absolutely a top-10 player in the NBA, and went on to state that if he had to choose a player to start a franchise with, Westbrook is a top five pick.
I don't necessarily disagree with Westbrook being a top-10 player in the league. There are five or six guys definitely ahead of him, but the second tier after that group is muddled and a convincing argument can be made either way. I do take issue with the idea that Westbrook is a top-five player to build a franchise around.
Smith is correct that Westbrook's attitude would be an excellent foundation to build a winning team upon. His maniacal competitiveness may rub some the wrong way, but he's as dedicated to his craft as they come on top of being an inspirational figure in whatever community he would find himself in. But Westbrook's game isn't one-size-fits-all. He needs just the right balance of shooting around him to be the best Westbrook possible. He didn't have that in the years he owned Oklahoma City following Kevin Durant's defection, which is why he never made it past the first round. It's also why he was having one of the most efficient seasons of his career in Houston before the season came to a halt.
I can definitively say I'd rather take LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Durant before Westbrook. They've all proven they can win, and win in the playoffs, on their own without a secondary star or a roster constructed to fit them like a glove. Durant took the Thunder to the second round in 2013 when Westbrook got hurt in Game 2 of the opening series against the Rockets. Westbrook was unable to do the same in his first or second year without Durant. If one feels Leonard's health is too big of a risk to start your franchise with, replace him with Anthony Davis or James Harden. It's extremely difficult to argue Westbrook over any of those guys.
Then there's the age factor that comes along with a team-building exercise. If you were the GM of this brand-new team, would you really take Westbrook over Zion Williamson or Luka Doncic? I wouldn't. Hell, even guys like Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant played their way into discussions like this. Westbrook is a great player. I'm not here to deny that. But when it comes to building your team around a superstar, there are others both better and easier to mold a franchise around.