Russell Westbrook may have cemented his case for MVP on Sunday, notching his 42nd triple-double of the season and breaking Oscar Robertson’s record that stood for more than a half-century. Westbrook also scored 50 points, including a buzzer-beating three from the parking lot, to give the Thunder a 106-105 win at Denver.
Westbrook now has three 50-point triple-doubles and eight 40-point triple-doubles this season.
With all due respect to LeBron James, James Harden and others, no one is playing at Westbrook’s level.
“Russ is going to get my nod,” author and three-time Emmy-award-winning broadcaster Ernie Johnson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I just think when you’ve done something that hasn’t been done since Oscar, and the fact that he’s had to do this on a team in which he doesn’t have a whole bunch of help, and he doesn’t take much time off, and he plays every night, and he plays at an absolutely non-stop motor, I’m giving him the nod by just the slimmest of margins maybe over James Harden. I’m in Westbrook’s corner on this one.”
Johnson was asked to compare Westbrook to another player in a previous era.
“AI (Allen Iverson) is the one that comes immediately to my mind,” Johnson said. “When you watched AI play in his heyday, he had that same want-to. He had that same get-after-it motor.”
Johnson, though, is hesitant to compare players from different generations, especially given his work on Inside the NBA with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. Barkley, 54, O’Neal, 45, and Smith, 52, might be inclined to favor their era – or previous eras – to the current one.
“We do push back and I think we have some pretty good discussions in the course of a season,” Johnson said. “And whatever Charles wants to call what Golden State plays – he said they play girly ball and all this stuff. Look, players today, a lot of them have a special set of skills that players didn’t have in the past. I think we’re seeing a guy like Steph Curry – who shot like him? I don’t know. I go back to growing up and watching Pistol Pete. Who shot off the dribble the way Steph does? Pistol did. But you don’t want your show to come off as ‘Get off my lawn. These new kids, they can’t do anything.’
“This is a special breed of player we’re watching a lot of times, whether it’s a Westbrook or a LeBron James with their physique and their physical capabilities,” Johnson continued. “Look, the game changes and it comes back, so you’re not pounding the ball down low to your bigs as much anymore; you’re shooting three-pointers. In time, if a team wins a championship by having two or three big guys that they just funnel the ball to, then it’s going to be, ‘Hey, maybe we should look at that wave of the future because the analytics say this.’ Basketball is cyclical. Things will come, and they will go. “
Thus, for Johnson, it’s not about arguing which player or era is better than the other; it’s about enjoying each player and era for who or what it is.
“I think it’s just cool to be able to appreciate the fact that we’ve seen the likes of Michael and Magic and Bird and Chuck at a certain point,” Johnson said. “Then we saw Kobe on the scene and Kevin Garnett. Now we’re seeing LeBron and Steph Curry. Just appreciate it. It doesn’t mean that any one is better than the other. It’s just a joy to watch all of them.”