Why Russell Westbrook Isn’t An All-Star Starter

Jan 7, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite the gaudy numbers, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star starter

How wasn’t Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook voted as an All-Star Game starter? The guy is a triple-double monster, and might be the first to average 10-plus points, boards and dimes since Oscar Robertson did it in the 1960s.

That’s so long ago, TVs didn’t have color, the three-point line wasn’t invented and Vince Carter was just about to turn seven.

All kidding aside, everyone knows Westbrook is good. And even though his manic-like mentality polarizes some, he’s obviously well liked.

Westbrook’s jersey, for example, was the sixth highest selling in the league last year. He’s also one of the NBA’s biggest social media follows and Oklahoma City Thunder games are always a hit when they’re on network TV. Remember when he used to dance during pregame warmups? Fans soaked that up like a Shamwow.

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So, what gives with the All-Star voting? A guy with that kind of clout, who’s AVERAGING A TRIPLE DOUBLE shouldn’t be third in votes at his position. There seems to be some uncertainty among fans. We don’t know whether or not to like, like Russell Westbrook. We don’t know if he is up on that pedestal with the LeBron James and Kevin Durants, or some consolation podium just below that.

Maybe it’s the players’ regular resistance to fully embrace Russ. On Wednesday night, for example, Zaza Pachula body checked Westbook and lingered over his sprawled out figure for seconds in an act of mockery before methodically meandering back to his teammates.

None of Westbrook’s teammates came to his aid while crickets chirped in the NBA Twittersphere. But, Westbrook is snubbed as an All-Star starter and players whip out their phones to cry foul on Twitter.

Is it possible that some of us just overrate Russ? Critics are quick to point to his 5.5 turnovers per game as a sign that he might be overvalued. But that doesn’t make sense. Yes, he loses the ball more than that guy who plays pickup games in a white beater and cut-off blue jeans, but he still has the highest Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA.

Basically, that take all the good things a player does and subtracts the bad. In other words, Westbrook does so much good, it easily covers up for the bad. Pop quiz, who has more turnovers this year-Westbrook or James Harden? The answer, Harden with 258.

Some can’t stand Westbrook for his pouty attitude. Which is fair. He’s led the league in technical fouls over the last two seasons with 25. Fans are usually turned off by complainers- think the entire Los Angeles Clippers team- which might be why Westbrook has so many haters. But think about that time you were the only person in a college group project that did any work.

You got pretty irritated when the teacher criticized you in the feedback portion of your grade, right? Well, that’s what Westbrook feels on a nightly basis this year and during the long stretches Durant missed in previous seasons. So why dock him?

Reputation hurter number three; Westbrook is a ball hog. It is true the Westbrook leads the league in field goal attempts, by nearly 140. But he also leads the league by an almost equally wide margin in assist percentage, which means he’s facilitated most of the baskets his team makes. So the handful of bad shots Russ takes each game are offset by how often he feeds his teammates for easy buckets.

So Russ isn’t overrated, unreasonably whiney or a ball hog. Why let his character get in the way of putting him on the All-Star starting lineup? Well, maybe it’s more about the other players.

Was he a snub? Sure. But let’s not dwell on that fact

Let’s face it, fans like three-pointers. If the saying in baseball is “chicks dig the long ball,” then “chicks dig the long shot” in basketball. Harden and Curry are both top three in three pointers made while Russell Westbrook was 18th. The league’s leader in trifectas, Eric Gordon, doesn’t even start for Houston and he still was high vote getter in the Western Conference. So you make threes, you get votes.

Curry was also aided by the Golden State effect. Even though the Warriors lost in the finals, the Warriors are still the NBA’s darlings. They sell out visiting arenas almost every night and with a fan base infiltrated throughout the country better than any other. Harden, as does any Houston Rocket, gets a kick back from China voters. The organization planted its flag in the country by drafting and marketing Yao Ming, and its players have received a popularity bump ever since.

And it’s not like Harden or Curry are schmucks. The Rockets two-way guard is running neck and neck with Westbrook in the race for the MVP trophy. And Curry’s 24 points, six assists per game average is nearly MVP worthy itself.

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So, NBA fans, don’t get your basketball shorts in a bunch. It’s not unreasonable to justify Westbrook’s absence from the All-Star starting five. Was he a snub? Sure. But let’s not dwell on that fact. It takes away from the mastery of what has turned into one of the best pre-all-star break performances in recent history.