Russell Westbrook is the NBA's most underappreciated player

The triple-double record has long been thought of as an impossible feat. Oscar Robertson’s record stood for 47 years and was the NBA’s white whale. Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard who ever lived and once said he thought it was the one NBA record that would never be broken. He had every right to believe that. No one had ever come close until Russell Westbrook, who did the impossible Monday night in recording his 182nd triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks.

At this point, Russ basically has every triple-double record you could imagine. Most triple-doubles in a season, most consecutive triple-doubles in a season and he’s the only player other than Oscar to average a triple-double for a full season — something Russ has done four out of the last five seasons. This will also be the fourth season he’s recorded 700 rebounds and 700 assists, also a record.

The rebounds are what truly highlight his greatness. Oscar was 6-foot-5, 220 pounds in the 1960s. He was a big guard before the NBA had big guards. The pace of the game was much faster back then — averaging over 26 more possessions per game — and shooting percentages were much lower. Westbrook is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, grabbing double-digit rebounds per game, with much fewer opportunities due to a slower pace in a league that is far more skilled, athletic and competitive.

Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards watches as an Atlanta Hawks shot goes through the hoop during a game between the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on May 10, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook broke Oscar Robinson's triple-double record on Monday. (Casey Sykes/Getty Images)

During his MVP season, he averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, was the scoring champion, and the best when it was winning time, leading the league in fourth-quarter points. In 2019, Westbrook had one of the most moving athletic performances I’ve ever seen when he became only the second player to record a triple-double with 20 or more points, rebounds and assists, dedicating the effort to his late friend, rapper and community leader Nipsey Hussle. If you are familiar with Nip, you know how truly special that was.

We have never seen a player like Russ in the NBA, why doesn’t the adulation match the effort? Why does he not receive the love other greats have? To say he is underappreciated doesn’t adequately describe how Russ is portrayed. If we’re being completely honest, the way he’s talked about is borderline disrespectful.

You can never question his effort or dedication to the game, but he’s still painted to be selfish and a stat chaser. He’s been said to be a difficult teammate, even though everybody who has played with him has spoken very highly of him. People have said he’s not a winner, going deep in the playoffs a number of times but only making it to the NBA Finals once.

Does that overshadow 13 seasons in the NBA, nine as an NBA All-Star, a league MVP, two All-Star MVPs, two scoring titles, nine All-NBA selections and no doubt a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection? Personally, I don’t think so. I think any of Westbrook’s perceived shortcomings are not due to Westbrook, it’s due to our inability to understand just how great he truly is.

When Russ retires, his name will be all over the record books. Our kids will look him up online, and understand what he’s done in its totality. How unfortunate is it that the people who are lucky enough to see what he does live are blind to it?

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