Was Gary Payton right about Rockets’ star Russell Westbrook?

Gary Payton (L) of the Seattle SuperSonics (Photo by JAMES NIELSEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAMES NIELSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Gary Payton (L) of the Seattle SuperSonics (Photo by JAMES NIELSEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAMES NIELSEN/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images) /

Making others better

Payton cited players from his era as further examples, as stated below:

“I look at Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, and Jason Kidd, and I see point guards. They make everybody better around them and they take a game over when they need to. That’s a point guard to me.”

Westbrook definitely has the ability to take the game over when he needs to, in a much better way than Magic, Thomas, Stockton, and Kidd, who The Glove cited as better examples than Russ. This is evident by the fact that Russ scored 20+ points in 34 consecutive games this season, while posting a career-high in field goal percentage and having one of his best seasons in true shooting percentage. This is important to note because it shows Westbrook wasn’t forcing it or “trying to score 30” as Payton stated earlier.

But if we want to talk about making others better, let’s use Paul George as an example. When PG-13 arrived in OKC, he had been a four-time All-Star and a three-time Third-Team All-NBA performer, but his game ascended during his time in Oklahoma City.

Russ helped turn George into an MVP finalist, which he was during the 2018-19 season, and a First-Team All-NBA selection, which were both his first time accomplishing those feats. George also had career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, player efficiency rating, and offensive win shares, all while playing alongside Russ. In addition, George had a career-high in field goal attempts last season, which is further proof of Russ creating scoring opportunities for him.

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Sure, the convenient narrative for players in the older eras is to cite players they played against as examples of how the game should be played, and the players Payton lists are all-time greats. But by his own definition, Westbrook also belongs in that same conversation. Russ has the ability to take over the game when necessary, and has the ability to make the same passes that Magic, Stockton, and Kidd dazzled us with..