All posts by Farzam Rahman

LeBron James: The Greatest Player to Ever Live

It’s fine to hate LeBron James. In fact, it’s completely acceptable at this point. Hatred comes along with the price of being great. It’s something that even the most premier athletes are accustomed to (e.g Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady). However, with LeBron James, the naysayers take it to a completely different level. To be fair, James did come into the league while assuming nicknames and titles such as, ‘The King’ or ‘The Chosen One’. When one puts themselves in that category, their every move is watched closely, and thus every flaw becomes a case for scrutiny. Successes become short-lived and difficulties become entertainment. LeBron has become the greatest basketball player of all time BECAUSE of the people who have doubted him. His willpower and resolve are aspects of his character that truly define him, and it’s no secret that he’s had that ability since he was young. Growing up in the inner-city and making it out is a major accomplishment in itself, but he has far surpassed even that achievement.

LeBron was recently spotted listening to Meek Mill’s new song, “Never Lose” during one of his workout videos (which has garnered way too much attention). This specific video, however, has a very significant meaning behind it: LeBron really can’t lose. Any further performances from here on out are just icing on the cake. No star in league history, let alone in this era, could ever be the complete player that is LeBron James. Yes, he has had many failures and shortcomings, but through those failures, he has also succeeded. Even in the occasions where LeBron has failed, he has not shied away from the moment. He has always shown that he is up to the challenge, and only someone who truly envies him would deny it. His trials and tribulations on the court and his prominence as a figure of basketball off the court make it really easy to see: LeBron is the greatest of all time. His presence has changed the NBA as a whole, and he has proven to be the best at his craft.

lebron-james-mvp-cavs.jpg

Statistically, the arguments are all in his favor. LeBron James averages a line of 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game for his entire career. He has done so in an efficient manner as well, shooting 50% for his career. James can (and has) singlehandedly make a team better like no other player in his era, or in any other era. He has consistently been able to get teammates involved while becoming one of the best scorers in league history. He even cleans the glass effectively, adding to his overall repertoire. LeBron’s steal and block statistics show how great of a defender he is, especially off the ball. Critics who said LeBron’s game depended on athleticism are now eating their words; he is now well into his 30s and has shown no signs of slowing down. His playoff stats are even more phenomenal, as LeBron has shown that he elevates his play time and time again in the postseason. In terms of all-time regular season marks, he is seventh in scoring, 12th in assists and 20th in steals. You will not find a player that dominant in that many categories. He is a 13-time all-star with 11 first-team selections, four regular season MVPs, and three finals MVPs. All of this, and he still has 4-5 good years left in him. The King has racked up the numbers and will probably break even more records in the coming future. But, as we all know, stats aren’t everything. There’s much more to his career than the numbers.

LeBron James is easily the most dominant player ever. Simply consider the fact that any team that LeBron joins in the NBA today will automatically be competing for an NBA title. That couldn’t be said about any of the other superstars in the NBA. To be frank, that can’t be said about most of the greats that have played this game. Almost all of them had an all-star or hall-of-fame caliber player with them en route to a deep playoff run. Just look back to the 2007 Finals Cavaliers roster. LeBron had a starting lineup that consisted of Sasha Pavlović, Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Besides Ilgauskas, none of those players ever made the all-star game and none of you reading this probably remember who those players are or what they look like. The only reason you could have the slightest memory of them is because of LeBron James single handedly carried this team to the finals, at just 22 years of age. They didn’t win a single game, but the King was very young at the time. Throughout this series, he showed that he was on his way to big things. This loss would set LeBron up for the rest of his career, where he would just get better and better as the years went on.

James joined the Miami Heat in what was and still may be the most talked-about move by a superstar in any sport. The public eye is always on LeBron, but this time it was fuel for more criticism. LeBron played with some of the worst talent in the league while in Cleveland. He constantly made them a title contender, and the formation of the Boston Celtics big three made LeBron go elsewhere. LeBron was criticized for joining two other stars in the league. Being a superstar, many thought that he was unable to perform in pressure situations and that he was trying to use more talent to cover this up. He was viewed as weak, selfish, and above all else, an arrogant coward. Essentially, LeBron received heat for creating what many other Hall of Famers had in their own careers. If you look at the teams that Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson played on, you will see many hall of fame and all-star caliber players. LeBron never had the opportunities that they had coming into the league, so he made it happen for himself. In fact, LeBron isn’t the originator of the super-team as many might think. In the modern era, the Boston Celtics were the first official formation of a super team (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and KG). The move to Miami was brilliant because LeBron got to show the world (especially the haters) exactly how good he was when it mattered.

heat-big-3.jpg

Playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t come as easily as LeBron expected. His first year proved to be an adjustment. A great regular season and postseason run ended in a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. Disclaimer: this is the ONLY disappointment in LeBron’s career that can be placed on his shoulders. He simply didn’t perform, and it was his first true shot at a championship. He flat out blew it and many critics were quick to jump on it. LeBron was no longer in the discussion of greatest ever to many people. The critics claimed that LeBron was too passive in the game’s most important moments, as he continued to play his facilitator-first role rather than to try and take over. The detractors were trying to make the point that James did not have the heart of a champion nor the mentality of a winner. Yet, all this did was fuel him further. With this loss in the finals, LeBron became motivated to take the throne that he claimed was his.

LeBron’s legacy was on the line the very next season and there was no room for error. After a long season and a grueling series with the Pacers (one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league), the Miami Heat found themselves down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics were a team that was formed to win multiple championships and this super-team was the real reason LeBron had left to join Miami. A loss to them would be a failure worth no excuses. He had the team that he wanted and Miami had blown a 2-1 series lead facing a must-win in Boston. LeBron would not fail again. He went into Boston and scored 45 points while pulling down 15 rebounds and helping his team to a blowout victory over the Celtics. In Game 7, LeBron capped off the series with a 31 point, 12 rebound performance. LeBron’s assist numbers in this series were lower than usual, but this was actually a good thing. It showed that with the game and season on the line, he took the game over like the greats he aspired to be. Just as the critics said he couldn’t, LeBron did. King James took that mentality into the finals and played a young, but very talented and complete OKC Thunder team. Despite Chris Bosh’s subpar play in this series, LeBron picked up the steam with the help of Dwyane Wade. After losing game one, the Heat won four consecutive games as LeBron averaged 28 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists for the series. He led his team in those three categories and was rightfully named the NBA Finals MVP. People forget how good this Thunder team was that LeBron played. They had beaten the Spurs, Lakers, and defending champion Mavericks on their quest to the finals. LeBron dispatched the team in five games and did so in dominant fashion. For once, the haters started to quiet down, but LeBron had more work to do.

The Miami Heat again cruised through the regular season in 2013. LeBron James and company again overcame a competitive Indiana Pacers team to reach the NBA Finals. LeBron was once again pitted against the San Antonio Spurs for the title. This time, he had reinforcements, but the Spurs now had Kawhi Leonard in addition to their three future Hall of Famers. The Spurs were even more talented than the exceptional Oklahoma City team that the Heat had defeated last year. Gregg Popovich, arguably the greatest coach in basketball, was leading this talented unit and, once again, the odds were stacked against LeBron. Though the series was filled with great basketball, LeBron’s legacy came into question throughout the competition. After the Spurs took a 3-2 lead over the Heat, LeBron was under fire yet again. Although his play had been stellar at both ends, critics questioned his style in deferring to his team as opposed to him driving to the rim. This criticism came up again and has been perpetual throughout LeBron’s career, simply because he doesn’t play the game the critics want him to play. LeBron continued playing the style that he is accustomed to; all-around dominant basketball. In Game 6, LeBron recorded a 32-point triple double in an overtime must-win game. In Game 7, LeBron capped off his brilliant series with another legendary performance. James annihilated the belief that he lacked a killer mentality by scoring 37 points in a defensive 95-88 victory over the Spurs. Not only this, but with the Heat up just 2 points and under 30 seconds to go, LeBron pulled up from mid-range and hit a jumper over Kawhi Leonard to essentially close out the series. The shot epitomized everything that the critics said the King could not be. Many say Ray Allen saved LeBron’s legacy in this series with his game-tying shot in Game 6. They forget that James carried the Heat in the fourth quarter of both games 6 and 7 on BOTH ends of the floor. LeBron thereby inched closer to greatness with his second title win and first title defense.

2013+NBA+Finals+Game+Four+51fYd1UkAyZl.jpg

The next season was another solid performance that led to an NBA finals berth for James. Unfortunately, an ailing Chris Bosh and a much older Dwayne Wade struggled to help provide for LeBron James in this series, as the Heat fell 4-1. The championship window seemed to have closed for Miami, but James was exceptional yet again. He shot over 57% from the field (52% from 3) to go with his 28 points and 8 rebounds per game. LeBron had proved everything he could in Miami, but there was one thing left to do; bring a title to Cleveland.

James returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 and the spotlight was on him yet again. The team cruised to the NBA Finals and LeBron displayed his basketball prowess in tremendous fashion. He took one of the worst teams in the league from the year before to the NBA finals in his first season back. However, LeBron was up against new competition in the form of MVP Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. The team had redefined basketball with their emphasis on rapid-fire jump shooting. LeBron showed that even this new challenge was not something out of the ordinary. The Cavaliers jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the series and looked in control, but things took a turn for the worst. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both went down to injuries and it seemed that the bad luck that had plagued LeBron over the course of his career was back to haunt him. The King was phenomenal and his stats showed that he was easily the best player on the court. It still wasn’t enough. Without a team at full force, LeBron would come up short. The Warriors became NBA Champions, but James wasn’t finished just yet.

The next season, the NBA Finals held a rematch of the epic clash between the Cavaliers and the Warriors. This time, both squads were healthy and LeBron had a chance to rewrite the wrongs of last season. Yet, LeBron seemed to be heading towards failure. With no excuses in sight, the Cavaliers were outplayed by the Warriors. Golden State took a commanding 3-1 lead with the series heading back to their home court. LeBron’s greatness came into question yet again, but the debate picked up heat this time like never before. James had already shown that he was one of the greatest players ever, but many believed that if LeBron failed to attain a title in this series, that he could no longer be placed in that conversation for the top spot. Critics AGAIN claimed that James did not have the ability to take over and that this time, there was no turning back. James had his back against the wall. The Cavs needed to win twice in Oakland, and three consecutive games for the King to save his legacy. All of this against a 73-9 ball club.

rs-245742-LeBron-James

LeBron responded in Game 5 in a manner that only LeBron could. He went into Oakland and scored 41 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists in arguably one of the most dominant performances in championship history. Kyrie Irving proved to be the second option that LeBron so desperately needed. Irving scored 41 points and the Cavaliers took the series back to Cleveland for a Game 6 face-off. Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, Shaq… each of these players had another star in the prime of his career to help them win titles, and now Kyrie was emerging for LeBron. James scored 41 points yet again in Game 6 to go along with 11 assists and 8 boards. He accounted for well over half of his team’s points in this game as he looked like a man possessed to prove the world wrong. LeBron came out in Game 7 with the same attitude. The game turned into a defensive struggle as both teams stayed scoreless for three of the final four minutes in the game. LeBron, however, still managed to make his mark on the situation and produced arguably the greatest defensive play in NBA Finals history. With the score tied, the Warriors got on a two-on-one fast break. Steph Curry passed the ball to an open Iguodala who went up for his lay-up, and was blocked by James who seemingly came in from out of nowhere to deflect it off of the glass. The shot saved the Cavaliers’ chances and eventually led to Kyrie Irving’s game-winning three-pointer. LeBron closed out the game by cutting to the basket and drawing a foul on Draymond Green. He made one of his two free throws, finished with a 27-point triple-double, and capped off arguably the greatest comeback in sports history. He overcame the impossible and the critics were turning into believers.

LeBron James has done it all. His stats show that he is the most complete player ever, but there are pieces of evidence even stronger than this. Look at his body of work. Aside from the many MVP awards, first team All-NBA selections, and NBA championships, LeBron has done things that no other great has. He has beaten and taken down three super teams in his playoff career. Aside from the loss to the Mavericks, LeBron has truly been the best player on the court in each of his championship series runs. Yes, bad luck and terrible timing have hurt LeBron’s chances to win and capitalize, but he didn’t stop. LeBron’s biggest rival in terms of legacy is most certainly Michael Jordan. He is clearly a more complete player than Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird. The debate comes down to MJ, who continues to downplay LeBron James and his entire career. However, Jordan struggled to reach the Finals once without Pippen (or even past the second round). LeBron reached contender status before he entered the prime of his career. The argument that LeBron needs help to win is simply a tired cliché. Every championship team has needed a few All-Stars or Hall of Fame-caliber players to win a title. In terms of being a complete player, Jordan pales in comparison to LeBron. The only area of advantage that Jordan holds over the King (in the eyes of some NBA analysts) is clutch-time play. However, LeBron proves to be the better teammate in these moments of the game. He is a playmaker who values efficiency. Even when the right play is not there, LeBron has his own fair share of clutch shots and game winners that haters seem to completely ignore. The King is the most complete player in the game. He is not just a ‘scorer’. He can do it all on the court, unlike any player we have seen before. So Jordan may continue to call LeBron out, but it is out of fear. He has the all-around ability of Magic and Oscar, the scoring prowess of Kareem, and the leadership of MJ.

38375db0-4257-11e7-a2cc-77f8d604a0c6_Jordan-James.jpg

The King is so good that the entire league has changed its course to remain relevant. Kevin Durant, one of the three best players on the planet and the best scorer in the game today, needed to join the same Warriors team that LeBron defeated in 2016 in order to win a championship. Even though the Warriors were able to top the Cavaliers in the 2017 Finals, the series signified how LeBron has changed the NBA forever. Currently, the league now has a true emphasis on not only winning, but winning big. This is directly related to LeBron James. The Celtics started this trend when they formed a super team to try and stop LeBron in the peak of his career. The Warriors followed suit in order to take him down and many other star-powered teams are now being formed. Many will incorrectly label the Warriors to be the start of this, but it was in fact LeBron James who began it all. No, he is not the originator of the super team; he is the reason why super-teams exist in the first place. The entire league knows that LeBron’s dominance, unselfish play, and emphasis on championship basketball has changed the landscape of the NBA for many years to come. No other superstar, be it Durant, Curry, Westbrook or Harden, could ever shake the league at its very core the way that James has. There is simply no way around it. LeBron James is the greatest player of all time.

The Redemption of Les Bleus

Being on top of the world is a second-to-none feeling. Being a champion allows a team to be respected as the best, and the sense of pride and achievement that comes along with it is unparalleled. However, many will tell you that being on top is also a position of high vulnerability. When you are the best, you have a target on your back; the plunge to the bottom seems daunting…and sometimes inevitable. The French National Team was arguably the world’s most dominant unit between 1998 and 2006. During this time, France reached two World Cup finals, winning the tournament in 1998. In addition to this magnificent triumph, they won the Euro Cup in 2000 and two Confederations Cup tournaments. Stars like Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira led a talented group of French players that took over football on both the club level and international level. Fame and glory was embedded within the culture of Les Bleus, but the team’s fate took a devastating turn after the 2006 World Cup Final.

The game stood at a draw of 1-1 in extra time, and with a penalty shootout on its way, France would have liked their chances against Italy for the title, but things took a turn for the worst. After Italy’s Marco Materazzi muttered some words in the direction of Zidane, the French captain responded in a manner that left the whole world in shock. Zidane jogged a few steps ahead of Materazzi, turned around, and butted his head straight into the chest of the Italian. Zidane was shown a red card and sent off. That red card was not only a ticket for Zidane to exit the field, but a ticket that took France directly out of the world-football powerhouse conversation for years to come. The entire world was hoping that a legend would close out his career at the top that day. Instead, France’s leader left the field in embarrassing fashion. Though he was insulted, he responded with emotion; individual ego that superseded the team’s desire to be the best. A dejected squad was dragged down for the rest of the fixture. As Zidane exited the field, he walked right past the World Cup trophy; the moment when France lost its grip on it.

1
Zidane (pictured) walks off the pitch after being shown a red card in the 2006 World Cup.

France not only missed their expert penalty taker; they fell apart in the most important moment of the entire tournament, and maybe in the teams’ history. Italy triumphed in a game that felt like a tragedy to many. ‘It should not have ended that way,’ many thought; it was a sour finish to a brilliant run. France’s dream of being the best team in the world – the dream that every country aspires to one day achieve – died that day. Another World Cup win would have made them immortals of the era. Yet, that dream became lifeless, and then came the inevitable fall of Les Bleus. The French team capitulated in a series of events that was worse than a nightmare. Their decline officially began with the 2008 European Cup. With a chance to respond to their last major defeat, and their backs against the wall, France performed terribly. They were eliminated in the group stage of the competition, losing in convincing fashion to both Italy and the Netherlands. Les Bleus finished the group in dead last and had a goal differential of -5 in the three games. Then came a shaky qualifying campaign, where France eventually had to settle for a playoff to even get to the World Cup. In the playoff against Ireland, France barely survived, winning 2-1 on aggregate on a deciding goal surrounded with controversy. Henry’s handball failed to be called, thus allowing him to set up William Gallas for the winning score.

Amidst all of the controversy, France still had a chance to prove that they were capable of being a football powerhouse. At the 2010 World Cup, France was favored to win a group that included Mexico, Uruguay and South Africa. Yet, the tournament soon became the event where the world witnessed the disaster that was French football. The team filled with talented superstars paled in comparison to the countries in their group, and finished last. They scored just one goal the entire tournament, and were embarrassed by Mexico and South Africa. However, the on-field failures seemed to be overshadowed by the off-field issues. Nicolas Anelka reportedly cursed out manager Raymond Domenech and was sent home. The star player losing his professionalism set off a chain of events in the French dressing room; mutiny began and the players who supported Anelka went on strike.

The French players refused to train, and Domenech was forced to state to the press that his team no longer desired to compete in the tournament. France had hit rock bottom. Individual veteran egos had once again distracted them from what was important. To make matters worse, France’s two most accomplished players at the time, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, were involved in an underage prostitution scandal. It seemed a joke at this point; France was the laughing stock of sports, and they seemingly could not do anything right. The French no longer had their backs against the wall; they were buried six feet under and the image of the team was tarnished. In September of 2010, the team fell to its lowest ever FIFA World Ranking (27).

2.png
Djibril Cisse (left) and Abou Diaby (right) displaying the mood of dejection felt by the whole French National team at the 2010 World Cup.

This is where the redemption story starts. French soccer took a stand and handed lengthy bans to players that they saw as detrimental to the team’s dynamic. The savior, however, who truly led France out of the storm, was their new head coach: Didier Deschamps. Deschamps started his campaign with some unpopular, but very effective moves. He started promoting younger players in place of many veteran, high-quality players. Deschamps rejuvenated the team with young, talented roster who were all eager to represent their country. To him, the talent was not the issue. He was more concerned with the dignity and image of French football. He made it clear that no matter how talented a player was, playing for France meant that you were part of a family and that the game never revolves around the talent of one single man. He brought unity and a sense of togetherness back into the squad that seemed so distant from the French team in recent times. Younger stars like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud shined under his coaching tenure, not only as footballing stars, but as Frenchmen who were playing for the spirit of their country.

Deschamps’ first test was the 2012 European Cup. France was a young team that showed some promise and had made it to the quarterfinals, where they lost to the eventual champions in Spain. A quarterfinal appearance in the European Cup was not a major accomplishment, but it showed signs that France was headed in the right direction. France played well in World Cup qualifying and in the years leading up to the 2014 World Cup, they displayed some of their best football in years. The 2014 World Cup showcased France’s brilliance as they made it to the quarterfinals and lost to the eventual champions, Germany, by a score of 1-0. The biggest validation of France’s potential came at the 2016 European Cup. France turned in a dominating performance at the tournament in which many stars were born. Dimitri Payet shocked the world with his fantastic control of the game, drawing comparisons to the great Zidane. Pogba and Griezmann also shined and let the world know that they were two of the best players at their positions. Pogba drew comparisons to France’s great Vieira, while Griezmann won player of the tournament. However, the biggest sign that the French process had worked was Olivier Giroud. Giroud was given a spot in place of star player Karim Benzema, in a move that was heavily unpopular with French fans. Benzema had continued to be involved in serious issues off of the pitch and simply could not keep his head straight. Deschamps showed that he cared about the team, not about the favor of any individual. He knew that Giroud was a countryman willing to play for his nation and he knew that Giroud wanted to prove that he belongs.

3.png
Antoine Griezmann (middle) scores the second goal over Germany in the semi-final to help France complete a famous win.

That semifinal victory over Germany in the 2016 European Cup was a sign that France was back. They were a world football power once again. Beating an experienced Germany side that many regarded as the best in the world showed the potential of this team. The French not only avenged their defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, they had also avenged all of the sorrows that they had endured for the past few years. The Blues would go on to dominate the final, but lose to Portugal in one of the most shocking upsets of the year. They lost by a goal in extra time in a match where they dominated. The French players were distraught because it was their tournament to lose. The delightful mood among the young French players seemed to have completely died after the match; it felt like the 2006 World Cup Final defeat. The pain was visible, and just like the defeat to Italy, the moment felt incomplete. It should not have ended this way.

This time, with a team filled with young and promising star players, France picked itself up. This team knew that it had to look forward and continued to fight. The players brushed themselves off and realized that this was just the start. They have led an impressive World Cup qualification campaign thus far and have shown themselves to be serious contenders to win the 2018 World Cup. Players like Pogba and Griezmann are nearing the primes of their career, taking the football world over in the process. Youngsters like Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman have shown their promise with speed and versatility that is unmatched by players of their age. This time, the defeat does not feel as bad. This time, France can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Les Bleus is no longer a sorry excuse of a team, but a group of young, patriotic and highly-driven individuals. These individuals have no ego; they play for the team. They will continue to dominate football and they are here to stay. The 2018 World Cup is France’s stage to show the world that redemption is possible. They are going to Russia to show the world that only France can beat France, and no one else. Don’t be surprised if they are lifting the trophy in Russia next summer.

4.png
Griezmann (left), Pogba (middle) and Giroud (right) shown celebrating.

 

Russell Westbrook Will be the NBA’s Best Player in 2018

Passion. Explosiveness. Heart. One could go on with one-word adjectives trying to explain the dynamo that is Russell Westbrook. Truth be told, he is a superstar who simply cannot be explained. Yet, it does not matter to Westbrook what your opinion is of his game. Just ask Steph Curry: Westbrook on Steph Curry.

Westbrook will dominate. If given a spotlight, he will take it. If he is given a challenge, he will attack it ferociously. Therefore, if you are an NBA fan, you are better off simply admitting that Westbrook will be the best player in the league next season. That’s right; not LeBron James, not Kevin Durant. It will be Russell Westbrook.

ye.jpg

The league’s most exciting player took the NBA by storm last season; Westbrook averaged a triple double for an entire season and achieved the feat an incredible 42 times over the course of the entire year. It does not stop there as he led the league in scoring and willed a very young Oklahoma City Thunder team to the sixth seed in a competitive Western Conference. His incredible season was appropriately capped off with an MVP award, winning the award against the likes of James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron, who all had tremendous years on their own accounts.

Yet, despite all of this, certain analysts and critics alike downplayed the season that Westbrook had. They labeled him a “stat-padder,” a triple-double chaser, and somehow a ball-hog (the guy had double digit assists, so I am as confused as you are). They claimed that Westbrook was a guy that no star could ever win with, and that he was doomed for the rest of his career. They even marginalized the importance of the MVP award, saying that Westbrook was simply chasing the award the entire year. Well, as DJ Khaled would say, Westbrook chose to stay away from “they.” He has done so for most of his career, and he thrived off of it this past season. Westbrook is no stranger to the unfair criticism as comments like these have only fueled him.

USATSI_9880009.jpg

Russell Westbrook is without a doubt one of the five best players in the league. Some may even say he cracks the top three, but with the moves that the Thunder have made this season, they will be a title contender and Westbrook will take the throne.

This past season was supposed to be an uphill climb for the Thunder, and it was. They had the second-youngest team in the league last season, and were still one of the ten best teams in the NBA. The team dynamic completely changed after giving up Durant and Serge Ibaka. The only viable scoring option on the wing was a young Victor Oladipo, who was accustoming himself to playing with Westbrook the entire year. In a league dominated by the three ball, the Thunder were playing four-on-five the entire season on offense, simply because of Andre Roberson’s inability to shoot. Westbrook played with Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Domantas Sabonis as well who, just like Oladipo and Roberson, are all either 25 years of age or younger. He was the only veteran on his team in an era where most competing teams have two to three All-Star caliber players in their starting lineup.

In addition to all of this, the Thunder displayed some of the worst bench production in the league. Yet, Westbrook led his team to the playoffs where they eventually fell to a Houston team loaded with offensive weapons (the series was much closer than the 4-1 final line). These statements alone should tell you enough about how he will become the best player in the league, but I will continue.

2.jpg

In that series against Houston, the Thunder outplayed the Rockets four times, but only took one of those games and lost the series convincingly (Game 1 was a blowout). The Thunder outscored the Rockets by an average of five points a game when he was on the court, but were outscored by over 50 points per 100 possessions when he was off the court.

The Thunder now have Paul George, who will give Westbrook exactly what he didn’t have last year: a consistent starter and premium catch-and-shoot player. Having him on the wing is significant because George was second in the league in catch and shoot points per game last year. Westbrook’s game is built off of penetrations that allow him to score or kick out to teammates. For most of last year, he did not have a single consistent spot-up shooter to work with. This season, the Thunder will have George, Patrick Patterson, and Raymond Felton new to the roster. They also still have Doug McDermott and Alex Abrines, who are key sharpshooters that did not get too much of an opportunity last season. I emphasize these players because they will allow Westbrook to fix his two glaring flaws (if you can call them that): turnovers and 3-point shooting.

paul1.jpg

Westbrook is constantly criticized for his high turnover ratio, but this is expected with the amount of time he has the ball in his hand. With catch-and-shoot players threatening on the outside, however, Westbrook will be tough to defend when playing his game. He will not have to make risky plays, because defenses will not be focused on just him. If defenses try to contain him, Westbrook will have no problem passing the ball. As for 3-point shooting, Westbrook shot a career high from that range last season. This year, he will have more space to operate and is no longer the only threat to score. He as at the peak of his basketball ability, and now has a roster that complements his game perfectly.

The claim that Westbrook will be unable to succeed with George is fair. George is nowhere near the superstar that Durant is, and Westbrook could not win with him, so how could he win this year? Durant got sick of playing with Westbrook, so how can George possibly get along with him? Would it be crazy to say that maybe Durant was the problem for the Thunder?

By the end of Durant’s tenure, Westbrook was slowly taking the team over. It is obvious that Durant was AND is the best scorer in the game today, but Westbrook was dominating the floor in all aspects. He outplayed the two-time MVP on defense in a series against the Warriors. He dominated on the boards, played solid defense, and scored his fair share. When he did struggle, Westbrook got his teammates involved. The 3-1 lead that the Thunder had on the Warriors was due largely in part to Westbrook’s play. Durant’s departure unraveled the greatest all-around season of basketball in the modern era. Westbrook was seen as selfish for trying to be the star, but after seeing all the talent he displayed last season, was he wrong?

3.jpg

Westbrook has always had the ability. He has always had the athleticism. His skillset is now fine-tuned. He already had an entire year of unleashing fury and proving to the world that no one can stop him on his day. Now, it is time to win. People never saw coming what Westbrook accomplished last year. Those same people will be shocked when he puts the Thunder back in contention for an NBA title and becomes the league’s undisputed best player.