So how are things for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Pretty good. They started the season 3-0, Russell Westbrook is posting monster numbers as expected, and no one is thinking about Kevin Durant, at least not in a good way.
Three games into the new season, Westbrook already has two triple doubles, including the first 50-points triple double since the 1970s. He’s averaging an NBA-best 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and a league-best 11.7 assists. There’s obviously been a huge rise in his per-36 minutes numbers too compared to last season. This small sample size is much more impressive than his 2014-2015 campaign, playing most of it without Durant, recovering from injuries.
The most interesting numbers to look at are the ‘advanced stats’, which sometimes can be misleading if you only look at them. But Westbrook has been the predicted tornato (I prefer Tasmanian Devil) in the first three games. Maybe it’s too soon to get excited: The Thunder played the Suns, Sixers and Lakers. But while the Thunder will face more difficult opponents, it’s hard to imagine them not giving Westbrook all this freedom to do whatever he wants.
He’s so far leading the NBA in assist percentage (61.7% compared to 49.6% last season), offensive box plus-minus (15.5 compared to 7.6 last season) and box plus-minus (18.4 compared to 10 last season; he led the NBA in this category with 11 in 2014-2015). His VORP of 0.6 is the best in the NBA too, something of a WAR measurement. His usage rating isn’t the highest in the NBA right now (DeMar DeRozan is ahead of him), but at 40.4%, it’s higher than his 38.4% which was an NBA-high in 2014-2015. He had a 31.6% usage ratio last season, playing next to Durant.
Right now the best numbers for the Thunder to look at are his net rating: The Thunder are winning by 11.1 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook is playing (38.3 minutes a night, 3 more minutes per game than his career high) and are better by 12.9 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor compared to his time on the bench. In 2014-2015, mostly played without Durant, the Thunder were only 1.8 points per 100 possessions better when Westbrook was playing.
It’s probably surprising to very few people to see the volume of Westbrook’s work this season. He’s always wanted to be the main player, and although the Thunder have Victor Oladipo to take some pressure off of Westbrook, there doesn’t seem to be much use for the difference at the moment. If the MVP was handed out on stats alone, Westbrook might be the leading candidate by miles. We’ll learn over the next few months if giving Westbrook so much to do (which he’s gladly accepting) is also the way to win a lot of games.