It’s safe to say that Jerry West thinks highly of Russell Westbrook. In fact, it would be hard to think of higher praise than describing a basketball player this way: Just like Michael Jordan, but with greater athletic ability.
That was the eye-opening assessment West offered Friday on ESPN’s “The Jump.” During a discussion of this season’s hotly contested MVP race, the 78-year-old former player and general manager said of Westbrook, “I always felt that maybe Michael Jordan was one of those unbelievably gifted athletes.
“But we’re looking at a reincarnation of Michael Jordan, who might be a little better in terms of athletic ability.”
Jerry West on Russ: "We're looking at a reincarnation of Michael Jordan who might be a little better in terms of athletic ability" pic.twitter.com/UfRzDoOmF5
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 21, 2017
In fairness to Jordan, widely viewed as the greatest basketball player ever, West, who starred for the Lakers and then helped build their dynasties in the 1980s and early 2000s, appeared to be framing his comparison in terms of athleticism and not necessarily overall skill. Westbrook, of course, showed plenty of everything this regular season, when he led the league in scoring while becoming the first NBA player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists).
Westbrook is considerably shorter than Jordan (6-foot-3 to 6-foot-6), so there is some merit to the argument that the Thunder star is the greater athlete, considering how frequently he explodes to the rim. However, Westbrook has more to do to be considered the best player in the league, as Jordan annually was in his heyday.
In fact, Westbrook is no lock to be voted MVP this year, despite his heroics, with the Rockets’ James Harden spending much of the season as the presumed front-runner while leading his squad to a better record. The Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard — also thought to be in the running — enjoyed better team success as well, and their supporters can point to far greater defensive contributions.
West declined Friday to offer his pick for MVP, but he seemed to prefer Westbrook over Harden, noting that the latter had “more weapons around him, offensively.” West did say that Westbrook “should” be putting up MVP-caliber numbers, given that the guard “has the ball a lot in his hands.” Westbrook’s usage rate this season, 41.7 percent, was by far the highest single-season mark in NBA history (according to Basketball Reference).
Meanwhile, with a chance to measure up directly to Harden in the ongoing Thunder-Rockets playoff series, Westbrook has posted the gaudiest single-game line, with 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 2. But his OKC squad has lost the first two contests with Harden playing well throughout.
(H/T Sports Illustrated)