by Eddie Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan

Sometime about a year ago, while watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play on my 50-inch Hoshitoshi, I can distinctly remember Russell Westbrook having one of those “Russell Westbrook” type games. You know the games I’m talking about. Russell would take a quick pull-up jumper at the top of the key (no matter if it went in or not), Russell would take a bullish drive to the hoop, no matter how many defenders were protecting the rim. Russell would even execute the offense, and would have the gall and audacity to not even look in the vicinity of his teammate who could be No. 1 on this list.

“Traditional” basketball folks would look and say that Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be a point guard. Or that Russell Westbrook should be traded. There’s no way he should’ve received a $95 million contract by the Thunder. “He’s just not a great fit for that organization.”

I say to those “traditional” basketball fans, oh thee who think of themselves as “purists” of the game, you are some ungrateful bastards.

It was at that time that I accidentally came up with a double entendre for Westbrook, to show my support for the man who I believed could be one of the finest talents in this game. Zero appreciation. (At this point if you don’t get the double meaning then I don’t know what to tell you. Just pray.)

See, I used to think that folks didn’t appreciate No. 0. I thought that everyone was blinded to what I ultimately saw. A player so athletically gifted, with a determination to be great at his craft, was only scratching the surface of reaching such lofty goals. We’ve seen phenomenal athletes come and go in the Association, but there are two things you’d never question about Westbrook. His work ethic and that his intentions aren’t ultimately in the right place for his team. He wants to be elite. He wants to win Championships. It’s all he’s ever spoke about while being in Oklahoma City, and he’s still got a long way to go to reaching his prime…

… but maybe folks would never appreciate him.

Then he received the invite by the Godfather of basketball, Jerry Colangelo, and the ultimate basketball purist, Mike Krzyzewski, to be a member of Team USA’s Olympic journey to a Gold medal in London.

I turned on NBA 2K13, and the opening montage began with Westbrook dunking viciously at the rim while Jay-Z’s “P.S.A.” played in the background.

Then as I perused my Twitter timelines, a prediction I made came true. Once Dwyane Wade left his perch atop Jordan Brand’s basketball pantheon, I immediately stated that Westbrook would make the perfect replacement. A young, budding star. On a team with Championship aspirations. A personality as bright as those shirts he’d wear in those post-game press conferences. Just makes sense, right? Then Michael Jordan tapped him on the shoulder to be the next ambassador of Jumpman.

Jerry Colangelo. Mike Krzyzewski. Jay-Z. Michael Jordan.

Each, in their own way, have co-signed Westbrook. Their “appreciation” for Zero was made known in their own special way. It’s become undeniable at this point.

This article isn’t about proving whether Westbrook’s worthy of the No. 9 spot on SLAMonline’s Top 50 list, but rather your willingness to accept that Westbrook is just that damned good. That his status is only on the rise, that it hasn’t plateaued. Does he have his flaws? Of course. If that jumper of his was money, if he wasn’t at times reckless with his decision-making, if he didn’t wear egregious outfits from time to time… well, you wouldn’t be able to place him at No. 9 on this list.

And that’s a conversation you’re probably not ready to have. #0appreciation

Where should Russell Westbrook rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3
19Pau GasolLakersPF6
18Chris BoshHeatPF5
17Kyrie IrvingCavsPG6
16LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF4
15Tony ParkerSpursPG5
14Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF3
13Andrew BynumSixersC2
12Blake GriffinClippersPF2
11Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
10Carmelo AnthonyKnicksSF3
9Russell WestbrookThunderPG4

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.