The once glistening career of Russell Westbrook has been sullied in dirt over the past 12 months.
Once viewed as a Hall of Fame lock, irresistible force, and a one-man wrecking crew, now, Westbrook has been perpetually questioned to no end. Of course, the first eight years of his time in the league were highlighted by deep playoff runs, deleterious drives to the basket, and eye-catching numbers while playing next to Kevin Durant. The following three were accentuated by Westbrook’s ability to average a triple-double for three consecutive seasons.
As Westbrook’s star shined bright, however, he became a mercenary of sorts, offering his services to the highest bidder. While his transient trips on the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards didn’t result in much team success, Westbrook balled. During the 2019-20 season, paired with his good friend James Harden, Westbrook would go on to average 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists for a playoff-bound Rockets team.
After being shoved out the front door in the first round, Westbrook got back to his triple-double ways in Washington. The multiple-time All-Star grabbed his new franchise by the collar and pulled them into the playoffs. With Westbrook averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists, no one was surprised when he found himself on the move again. This time, to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With LA faithful pulling out countless musical instruments from their knapsacks as they serenaded Westbrook’s arrival, the league’s all-time leader in triple-doubles grinned widely. Growing up in the LA area, Westbrook dreamed of donning the purple and gold. Yet, fairly early into his first season, it was clear that things weren’t right.
Russell Westbrook isn’t the same but is Reggie Jackson the better player now?
The once acrobatic finishes around the rim became sloppy throw-ups at the basket in a desperate attempt to draw a foul. What about his midrange jumper that was as smooth as butter? Those turned into hard clanging misses off the side of the backboard. His once sure and steady point guard hand became an easy theft for opposing guards as he continually gave the ball away.
While Westbrook continued his struggles, just down the hall, where the lights aren’t as bright and where the fanbase isn’t as rabid, Reggie Jackson was putting on a nightly show. With Kawhi Leonard missing the entire season due to a torn ACL and with Paul George forced to miss 51 games with torn ligaments in his right elbow, the LA Clippers reluctantly placed the ball in Jackson’s hands.
On a nightly basis, Jackson skipped down the court, dribbled the ball between his legs before driving to the basket, stopping on a dime and pulling up for a mid-range jumper that hit nothing but net.
Well before Westbrook officially took the court for his first game in LA, no one outside of Clipper Nation would believe that Jackson would have the better season. Yet, as we take a close look at the numbers, while Westbrook ultimately had the edge, Jackson wasn’t far behind.
- Russell Westbrook stats: 18.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.1 apg, 3.8 tpv (turnovers), 15.0 PER
- Reggie Jackson stats: 16.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.3 tpv, 12.1 PER
Sure, the overall numbers point squarely in Westbrook’s favor but the overarching story of their season’s screams otherwise.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis standing firmly by his side, Westbrook was viewed as the final ingredient to a championship recipe. Nevertheless, as he continued to fire countless airballs and as his penchant for handing the ball to the other team grew, so did the acrimony toward Westbrook and his play.
Near the tail end of the season, the Lakers proceeded to falter as they fell both out of playoff and play-in contention. The Clippers, on the other hand, battled to the very end. While they also came up short, losing to both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in round, Clipper fans stood on their feet and roared to show their appreciation. Westbrook, alternately, was booed mercilessly the moment he even looked at the basket in an attempt to shoot the ball.
Despite the constant chastisement of Westbrook’s eroding game, once he hangs up his sneakers for good, the Hall of Fame will be patiently waiting for him. Jackson, conversely, will fade into the shadows once his career comes to a close.
Even at this stage in Westbrook’s career, it would be erroneous to say that he’s the better overall player when juxtaposed to Jackson. However, Jackson had a far greater impact on winning. That should count for something.