Who Can Russ Trust?
They call it the Wild West for a reason. After averaging a triple double through the first half of the season, Russell Westbrook will not be starting for the Western Conference in this year’s All-Star Game. If 30 points, 10 assists, and 11 rebounds a game didn’t make a strong enough case, neither did the fact that the Thunder point guard is on pace to break Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 41 triple doubles. James Harden, Westbrook’s adversary in what has essentially become a neck-and-neck race for NBA MVP this year, is starting. So why isn’t Russ? The answer for Westbrook’s slight, as it often does these days, lies in Northern California.
Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the Golden State Warriors have inadvertently slid a proverbial dagger into the ribs of Russell Westbrook for the third time in six months. The first was the bold and unexpected departure of Durant for the Bay Area, leaving Westbrook, his sidekick, to fight the villains of the Western Conference – the Warriors included – on his own. The second included the 39 and 40 point performances Durant has posted against the Thunder on the way to two blowout Golden State wins over OKC. For as much as Russell Westbrook may have been involved in the first two, losing a starting spot via fan vote to Steph Curry was entirely beyond his control. It must sting nonetheless.
While Steph has posted a decent stat line this season by All-Star measures, Westbrook has been undeniably the best point guard -if not the best player- not just in the Western Conference but in the entire league. However, the game’s selection process doesn’t always favor players on small-market teams.
The NBA changed the rules for its All-Star Game voting earlier this season, allocating 50% of the final tally to the fan vote and 25% each to the players and a select pool of media members. The new system produced a three-way tie for the two starting guard spots. Westbrook placed third in the fan vote behind Curry and Harden, yet won both the players’ vote and the media vote. Harden placed second in all three categories, clinching one of the two spots. While Curry landed in third place in both the players’ vote and media vote, his first-place finish in the fan vote served as the tiebreaker, propelling him into the starting point guard role for this year’s Western Conference squad.
While the fan vote essentially boils down to a popularity contest, it’s certainly disappointing to see that most of the league’s fans don’t appreciate the historic season Westbrook is giving them. For the record, Westbrook still would not have earned a starting spot under the old voting system. That’s the impact Steph Curry and the aura of these Golden State Warriors have these days. While the “defeat” serves as one more blow to OKC’s superstar dealt by his California rivals, the ultra-competitive point guard will likely channel his disappointment into motivation to return the favor come playoff time. For the sake of watching history in the making, let’s hope he does.