Russell Westbrook, Not as Good as Advertised

Some players walk a fine line between being underrated and overrated. Which is Russell Westbrook? The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is one of the more polarizing players in the NBA today, but when looking at certain numbers and just the way Westbrook plays and behaves, it draws to a conclusion that he isn’t as good as the hype around him might suggest.

Along with the compliments, Westbrook is usually the first to get blamed when things go wrong for the Thunder, which isn’t that often. His decision making in the NBA finals was atrocious, especially in the final game. Kendrick Perkins, his teammate for the past few seasons, has described him (and Rajon Rondo) as a diva of sorts. Westbrook thinks and acts like a star, which he usually plays like, never thinking there’s anyone better on the floor than him. Even when he’s playing next to Kevin Durant.

Russell Westbrook averages 18.9 field goal attempts per game this season, shooting 42.1% from the field. More than 32 percent of Westbrook’s shots this season are coming off the dribble, many of those presumably in transition, and he has a 0.761 points per possession in those attempts. That ranks in the 56th percentile in the league, making him pretty average in that area. Westbrook doesn’t look for easy shots – he looks for any kind of shots. As some once said about Kobe Bryant – Wesbtrook hasn’t met a shot he hasn’t liked.

When compared with other prominent point guards in this area, it’s easy to see why when you’re blaming Westbrook for shooting so much and taking bad/tough shots, you’re probably right. Kyrie Irving, who is taking roughly 39 percent of his shots off the dribble this season, has a 0.91 PPP that puts him in the 82nd percentile. Stephen Curry, who takes nearly 43 percent of his shots off the dribble, has a 0.907 PPP that is right behind Irving and better than 81 percent of the league. Nearly 39 percent of Tony Parker’s shot attempts come via the dribble, and his 0.956 PPP puts him in the 87th percentile.

And it comes to how Westbrook handles the transition game. Yes, the Thunder are younger  more athletic and quicker than most teams in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean that Westbrook, possibly the most athletic point guard in the NBA, with the ability to pull off the most incredible of shots and dunks at times, knows how to run an offense on the break better than others.

Russell Westbrook’s Transition Tffense

Year Points Per Play NBA Percentile Overall NBA Rank
2008-09 0.938 19% 300
2009-10 1.053 31% 257
2010-11 1.077 35% 256
2011-12 1.074 37% 239
2012-13 1.014 29% 238

Yes, Westbrook hasn’t improved much when it comes to running the transition offense, even falling back in the last couple of seasons, as Westbrook has grown more confident in his importance as a shot maker for the Thunder. While Westbrook currently ranks No. 7 in the league in scoring, he has the lowest shooting percentage (41.9) among those in the top 10. Nobody else shoots less than 44 percent.

Besides taking bad shots off the dribble, there are two other majors aspects in which Westbrook has to become better in: Keeping the ball and getting to the line.

Just under 14.2% of Oklahoma City’s transition plays this season that involve Westbrook end in turnovers. Stephen Curry turns the ball over 10.5% in these plays; Kyrie Irving is at 12.9%; Tony Parker is at 10%. Westbrook is the worst among the point guards scoring more than 20 points per game, and his turnover ratio in previous seasons was above 15%.

You also expect Westbrook to get more to the line, but his style and his knack for taking off for tough 2’s off the dribble hurt his chances of getting to the lines and making easy points, being an above 80% shooter from free throws. Tony Parker, for example, gets fouled on 20.9% of his plays in transition. Westbrook, in comparison, is only at 11.8%. Westbrook is shooting 34% from the field when taking off for shots between 16 and 23 feet.

You can’t say a player averaging 22.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game isn’t worth a lot. With a PER that’s 11th in the NBA, his value to the Thunder is clear. The problem that with his value, comes the need that he becomes a better player and a better decision maker, whether it’s becoming less selfish with the ball or at least stop trying to make shots that aren’t suited for his ability. With his on and off effort on defense the Thunder can live, for now. Without him making the right adjustments on offense, that NBA title might be a little further than what everyone seems to think.

Hat Tip: Joe Kaiser