Few players have been subjected to more unfair scrutiny and criticism than Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.
Both are 2012 NBA All-Stars and integral parts of their team; yet find themselves playing Robin to their team's Batman. Wade and Westbrook play with the two greatest young talents in the NBA, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Due to the similar secondary roles that Wade and Westbrook share, many critics have begun to draw comparisons. After judgments are made, many ask, Who is the better player, Wade or Westbrook?
Although, it's not fair to deem which player is better due to their different positions and where they are in their respected careers. A fairer question that can be answered is, Which player is more important to their team?
Wade is the more proven player with a resume that consists of eight All-Star appearances, an NBA Championship, NBA Finals MVP, and a regular-season scoring title.
After winning a title in 2006, Wade has shown he still has the championship experience and elite skills to win another.
In these playoffs, Wade is averaging a tiring 39.6 minutes per game, while scoring an average of 22.9 points. As if this isn't an impressive stat-line already, he is also averaging 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.67 steals.
Wade's impressive arsenal of offensive moves has left the Thunder defense scratching their heads. Guarding him is so hard considering his unpredictability. Much like James, Wade can sink contested jump shots and drive to the bucket. When Wade attacks the basket, he can draw the help defense and make the interior pass to the open post player, beat his man to the bucket for the score, or draw contact and get to the line.
Wade also has one of the best pump fakes in the entire league, rivaling that of Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce. Over and over, Wade fools perimeter defenders into fouling him on jump shots.
If the Heat were without Wade in the playoffs, the team's only major scoring threats would be James and possibly Chris Bosh. James would be left as the only threat of penetration from the perimeter, essentially reducing the number of outlet passes leading to open jump shots.
Without Wade, the Heat would not stand a chance against the Thunder. The loss of Wade's jump shot and penetration would allow the Oklahoma City defense to smother James, while forcing Miami role players to knock down shots.
Westbrook is the most athletic point guard in the NBA. He serves as a one-man fast break, a facilitator, and a jump shooter.
The young point guard bettered his shooting this season by shooting 45.7 percent from the field and averaging 23.6 points per game. Westbrook's scoring ability nicely complements Durant, who holds this year's scoring title.
Westbrook's athleticism was highlighted in the previous playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder point guard demonstrated his speed by consistently blowing past veteran point guard Tony Parker.
When Westbrook gets out on the fast break, it is practically guaranteed that he either draws the foul or finishes. Kobe Bryant, consistently ranked as one of the best defenders in the league, can attest to this during their playoff series, as he was victimized by Westbrook on an iconic fast break play that promptly ended the playoffs for the Lakers.
After coming off his first All-Star season, Westbrook has flourished in the playoffs. His biggest scoring attribute is by far his sheer athleticism. NBA point guards simply are not equipped to guard him, creating a constant mismatch at the position.
Putting Westbrook's athleticism to the side, he can still sink jump shots and make the occasional three point shot. His jump shot has been the biggest improvement to his game this year, forcing defenders to guard him tighter.
There is no dispute against Westbrook being a scoring point guard, but he also possesses good distribution and defensive skills. This postseason he has 106 assists and 28 steals. He has also reduced his postseason turnovers from 78 last playoffs to 40 this year. Westbrook's presence is tremendous to the Thunder.
Verdict: While both players are absolute necessities to their team's success this year, Wade is the more indispensable teammate.
A Wade-less Heat team results in too much stress on James and Bosh. Wade is exactly what the Heat need with his ability to make jumpers, dish out assists, and finish on any given play. It boils down to the fact that the Heat has absolutely no player to replace Wade. The absence of Wade would result in the shaky Mike Miller, who would have difficulty guarding James Harden, slipping into the lineup.
On the contrast, if the Thunder were to lose Westbrook, they have a player that could potentially fill his role. Harden already handles the ball in the fourth quarter; proving that Thunder coach Scott Brooks believes in his decision-making skills over Westbrook's. Harden is the smarter player of the two and has made more clutch shots for the team.
The Heat's last championship was brought to Miami by Wade in 2006. Equally, the 2012 Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy will not return to South Beach without the strong play of the former Finals MVP.