If there’s one thing we don’t get enough of in the NBA, it’s cross-sport athlete comparisons. Before Russell Westbrook finished one assist shy of another triple-double in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 110-91 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, head coach Jason Kidd reached into the boxing world to heap superlatives on the reigning MVP.
Just because I know you’re thinking it: Kidd wasn’t referring to their similar gap-toothed smiles, either.
“He is the [Mike] Tyson of basketball,” Kidd, a former star point guard himself, said before the Bucks lost 110-91 to Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder. “When the jump ball [goes up], he is coming as Tyson did [in getting] off the stool. When the bell rings, he’s coming for you. Whenever he’s on the floor, he plays at one speed, and that’s fast and hard. He’s a little different in that case that he’s probably the only [No.] 1, and then I would put [at] 1B in that same category John Wall. Just that speed of coming at you every time you’re on the floor. There is no kind of walking the ball up; they are coming at you and causing problems.”
It’s probably one of the only accurate comparisons for Westbrook that we can find. The downside of the Tyson legacy is that he burned out too soon because of his lack of discipline and hotheadedness. Westbrook can be a human cigarette on the court who gives you a dopamine boost when he excels, but can be harmful to his own cause. His impetuous decision-making can shoot his team into and out of games. It can also dominate to a degree we’ve rarely seen in the history of the sport.
The young Jordan comparisons last season seemed forced. Westbrook is 25 triple-doubles away from tying Kidd on the all-time triple doubles list, but their styles are also vastly different. Whereas Westbrook is pursuing a knockout on every possession, Kidd was more cerebral. If you were to keep it within the confines of the NBA, Westbrook is a smaller version of what Kidd hopes Giannis Antetokounmpo can become.
Both are triple threats, two of the NBA’s most lethal slashing scorers once they spot a driving lane; heart rates spike once they leave gravity behind. However, Kidd didn’t stop there. He also championed the Oklahoma City guard as the NBA’s alpha dog:
“He’s the best in the game,” Kidd said of Westbrook, the reigning league MVP. “Puts a lot of pressure on your defense, offensively and defensively. For him, he can make the adjustment, play with talented guys like[Paul] George and Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. For him, his game doesn’t change. He puts a lot of pressure offensively on that break, just finding the open guy and making the game easy.”
Westbrook’s unique style of play can be capricious from year to year. but there’s merit to Kidd’s assertion. Aside from his mysterious free throw struggles, Westbrook seems to have solved his inefficient shot selection this season by becoming a more conventional point guard. Getting flanked by two All-Star wings in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will do that.
Westbrook’s averaging fewer points and shots per game in 2017-18 than when he has since his second season. His assists are up more one per game than during his MVP campaign, though he still leads the league in turnovers. His personal field goal percentage has improved from last season’s 42.5 percent, a nadir for MVPs, especially in an era where efficiency is paramount, to 47.5 percent.
Kidd may be just spouting niceties, and you can make an argument for LeBron in the “Old Man Logan” stage of his career, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard or Antetokounmpo as the league’s best player. But one year after taking home MVP honors, Westbrook certainly remains in the conversation.