Russell Westbrook is having one of the most polarising seasons in NBA history, seemingly helping and hindering his team simultaneously. Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion on him. There are no fence-sitters when it comes to the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s starting point guard. Is he a passionate, driven player, who does it all on-court and makes his teammates better? Is he an arrogant, shot-chucking stat-padder? The answer is somehow, both. So, less than a month out from the start of playoffs, with his team fighting for position amongst a loaded Western Conference, what exactly is the impact of Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook: Under The Microscope
By The Numbers
To understand Russell Westbrooks game, his playstyle, it is crucial to look at the stat sheet. First and foremost, Westbrook is in the midst of a third straight season averaging a ‘Triple-Double’, and double figures in three statistical categories. He’s currently averaging 23 points per game, 19th best in the league. He leads the league in assists, dishing out 10.5 per game. Westbrook also pulls down 11.1 rebounds per game, 11th best in the league. This is good to lead all guards in this statistic. The Thunder have a winning percentage of 0.8197 when Westbrook records a triple-double.
However, Westbrook is also having a horror year shooting the ball. Shooting 42.7% from the field, he has only had four seasons posting lower percentages. He is having his third worst season ever from three, connecting on only 28.2% of shots from downtown. Things get even worse when looking to the free-throw line. Westbrook is having his worst ever season from the charity stripe, shooting 65.2%. That’s 15.1% lower than his career average from the line.
By diving even deeper into the numbers, we can gather more of an understanding of just how Russell Westbrook is impacting his team, both positively and negatively. Looking first at ‘Player Efficiency Rating‘ (PER), Westbrook is posting a 20.8, three points lower than his career average. It is still five points above the league average of 15. Westbrooks ‘Box Plus/Minus‘ (BPM) of 6.1 has remained around his career mark, posting 6.6 over the course of his time in the league. This means that over 100 possessions, Westbrook is around six points better than league average.
Westbrooks ‘Wins Shares‘ (WS) for this season is sitting at 5.3, meaning he produces just over five wins for the Thunder. This is a significant reduction on last years WS of 10.1. However, it is important to note that fellow All-Star teammate Paul George‘s WS has jumped from 8.9 last season to 10.6 this year. George has been playing MVP level basketball this season, and as such has been more of a focal point for the Thunder. This can also be seen in their ‘Usage Rate‘ (USG%). Westbrooks usage has dropped 2.7% (34.1% – 31.4%), whereas Georges has risen 4% (25.7% – 29.7%). As the point guard, Westbrook will always have higher usage, however, it is clear that George has undertaken a much more significant role in his second season in Oklahoma City.
Numbers and statistics are a large part of basketball. But they are by no means everything. Ask any of Russell Westbrooks teammates about his impact on the court, and you will hear unequivocal support. Paul George credits Westbrook as a large part of what caused him to resign with OKC in free agency when many thought he was bound for the Lakers. Speaking to USA Today, George said:
“Nothing about him is fake, and that’s the people I want to be around, somebody who’s going to tell it like it is, somebody who’s going to push you, somebody who’s going to encourage you, somebody who’s going to motivate you, and vice versa.”
There are other players who will provide testimony to this. Enes Kanter has said that Westbrook (along with Steven Adams) was the best teammate he ever had. And of course, there’s the story of Westbrook meeting Terrance Ferguson just after midnight, to help him work on his shot.
Help or Hinder?
Russell Westbrook is in the midst of a historic run, averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive season. However, he’s shooting the ball at a historically low clip. Advanced stats show that he is still above average in every component despite his numbers sliding from previous seasons. He provides energy and leadership for a dangerous looking Thunder squad but is learning to adapt to the emergence of Paul George as a number one option. Whichever way you slice it, Russell Westbrook is having a season with the potential to make his team both better and worse.
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