The Substance Report is an official rankings that I thought was necessary to come up with to determine which players throughout the league are most valuable to their team. Each day, for the next 17 days, there will be an article dedicated to a single player that demonstrates both his value to the league, but more importantly, the weight on his shoulders on his own team.
An example of the rhetorical questions to ask yourself throughout the readings of the ranking is something along the lines of, "What would the Warriors look like without Stephen Curry? How much worse off would they be as a team? Could they still win an NBA Championship if they just released him to the depths of a fiery hell? Would Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson's efficiency go up because they would have more shot opportunities with Steph out of the rotation?" and other important meditations similar to that nature.
This is what the rankings look like so far.
THE SUBSTANCE REPORT RANKINGS
30. Lou "Two Girls and They Get Along Like I'm Lou Will" Williams
29. Domantas "Arvydas's Son" Sabonis
28. Montrezl "Holy Shit That Guy Tries Hard" Harrell
27. Mike "Never Leaving Memphis Because Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M.!" Conley
26. Klay "Not Just Steph's Sidekick" Thompson
25. Trae "Ugliest Player in the League" Young
24. Ben "Kendall Jenner's Bae/Fresh Prince" Simmons
23. Nikola "Diet Jokic" Vucevic
22. Karl-Anthony "Who Was the Last Good Player With Two First Names?" Towns
21. Blake "Pray My Knees Will Be Okay Come April" Griffin
20. Devin "Should I Just Become a Point Guard?" Booker
19. Anthony "'I'll Tell On You To Rich Paul!'/AD" Davis
18. Russell "I Didn't Know a Professional Could Take Their Job Too Seriously/Why Not?" Westbrook
I'll be the first to admit it: I have a very intense, consistently altering love/hate relationship with the basketball player Russell Westbrook. I think he has the potential to be one of the greatest point guards of all-time from an athletic, fundamental, and cerebral standpoint. But, I also believe he can be the sole reason for a lot of people's misery, including mine, his own, Kevin Durant's, Paul George's, the entire city of OKC's, and many, many more.
There is no doubt in my mind that I consider myself one of his many admirers when it comes to his fashion sensibility. The dude wears whatever the fuck he feels like wearing at that exact moment, and somehow makes it look good (it does help that his sub division of the Jordan brand's motto is literally "Why Not?"). Sometimes there's even subtle messages within his wardrobe choices, like when he wore a photographer's vest for his hallway entrance the first time the Thunder and Warriors played after Kevin Durant's departure (KD likes to play photographer in his free time during the offseason, but Westbrook swears that this attire decision wasn't a jab at his former Thunder buddy).
Okay, enough about Westbrook as far as his personality off of the court. Let's talk about him as far as his existence as a basketball player in the year 2019, because I think Westbrook would be one of the greatest players of all-time if he existed from 1982-1997 instead of 2008-present.
He could've gotten away with a half of a million fouls that would've resulted in a half of a million steals which would've resulted in a half of a million fast break windmill dunks which would've resulted in half of a million racist white people deciding to begin a religion strictly dedicated to Westbrook's athleticism.
Other things Westbrook would've done if he played in the 1980's and 90's
Russell Westbrook would've perfected the bank shot for the entirety of his career rather than just a small portion of it.
Russell Westbrook would've actually made other point guards defecate in their jock straps.
Russell Westbrook would've married Pamela Anderson and they would've been the most dynamite couple of the 20th century, surpassing the alleged relationship of Marilyn Monroe and JFK.
Russell Westbrook would've gotten in hundreds of fights after tree stump for legs big men like Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason attempted to murder him mid-air with their burley arms.
SIDE NOTE: None of these fights would've resulted in suspensions, but instead would've been ruled as only technical or flagrant fouls. God I wish the NBA still permitted fighting. The closest thing we get to it now is Ibaka flailing his arms in hundreds of directions spastically at once, and missing everybody's face like his hand was one end of the magnet and his opponent's face was the other.
Russell Westbrook would've literally physically picked up the legendary Detroit Pistons Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas the moment they stepped on the floor together, put him on a tablespoon, and swallowed him whole. Then he would smile and you would see Isaiah's foot trying to crawl it's way out of Westbrook's gap in his teeth.
Russell Westbrook would've set fashion forward a billion years.
Despite how fun it is to imagine Westbrook in an alternate era, he actually exists in this one, and he's been really fucking good in this one too. The electric 6'4" point guard, who deep-down thinks he's a 6'9" small forward, is the first player in the history of the NBA to average a triple double in consecutive seasons (he's going to get his third in a row after this season is over). That itself is an amazing enough feat to get him into the Hall of Fame once he retires, even if he is guilty of the accusation that he's a stat hunter.
Another side note: Hey, guess what, man. It's the NBA, a lot of dudes are stat hunters. Wilt Chamberlain was the infamous pioneer of the stat hunting community. He would literally ask the statisticians how many assists he needed until he got to above his season average, just because he wanted the statistics to tell the world that he could be unselfish, when in reality, he was being ironically selfish through this action. Remember when James Harden started laughing, smiling and pointing at his mom after he eclipsed 30 points for the 30th game in a row? That's stat hunting, m'dude. It's here to stay, because basketball is about records, and records exist so they may be broken.
Westbrook's stat hunting may suggest that he's selfish, but his assist numbers imply the antithesis. He's averaging a career high 10.4 assists per game, and is exceeding his former career high of 10.3 APG which he achieved last season. Simply put, he is an incredibly gifted passer. His cannons for arms allow him to fling the ball across the court in a zipping fashion that is only matched by the likes of LeBron, Ben Simmons, James Harden and Chris Paul.
Not only is Westbrook dominant on the offensive end of the stat sheets, but he's also one of the best backcourt defenders over the course of the past two decades when he puts his mind to it. He's averaging two steals per game this season, and is right around that mark across his career.
Russ plays with an intense anger that hasn't been seen since Kobe played, and he may have even exceeded Kobe when it comes to a, "Fuck you. Why do you think it's okay that you can even attempt to compete with me for 48 minutes? You know that just makes me wanna go even more balls than to the wall," mentality.
It's like Westbrook is actually pissed the fuck off when someone on the opposing team is dribbling the Spalding ball. He looks at the basketball, like, like, like it's fucking his, and HIS ONLY. There's a psychotic vibe to his obsession of possession. I imagine he thinks the ball is staring back at him just itching to return to Westbrook's sweaty hands. I imagine he's very fond of clenching things as hard as he possibly can.
The biggest issue with Westbrook is an obvious one: he fucking sucks at shooting now. I don't know why, how, when, where, or who took his jump shooting ability away from him, but it's legitimately absent in the year 2019.
Russell Westbrook Scoring and Shooting Statistics Per 36 Minutes
2016-17 MVP Season: 32.9 PPG, 55.4% TS*, 34.3% 3PT, 84.5% FT, 10.8 FTA, 30.6 PER**
2018-19 Season: 23.1 PPG, 49.8% TS, 28.5% 3PT, 65.1% FT, 6.4 FTA, 20.6 PER
* True Shooting
** Player Efficiency Rating
There are spurts he'll have where he'll show flashes of it existing, but I would credit his ability to make those shots directly to his ridiculous amount of confidence that he has in himself. Which has typically been the downfall of the OKC Thunder as much as it has been the driving force behind their success.
There isn't a person in the world who thinks Russell Westbrook is the best player in the world except for Russell Westbrook. Not even his brother, Ray, thinks of Russ as the best player in the world aside from when Russ demands Ray to say that he is. And even when he bullies him into saying it, he still doesn't think it.
If Russell Westbrook ever wants to win a championship with the Oklahoma City Thunder, then he's going to have start making jump shots again on a consistent enough basis to be respected by perimeter defenders. In the mean time, he's going to have to rely on his intensity, Paul George's scoring ability, and his desire to win games above all else.