Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in each of the past two seasons, but his numbers may not be as great as they seem.
Russell Westbrook has developed a reputation and a triple-double machine as well as become one of the top point guards in the league. These descriptions about Westbrook could be true, but how telling are his extraordinary statistics? The three categories that contributed to Westbrook’s triple-doubles were points, assists, and rebounds. Westbrook is not bad in any of these categories, but his play style allows all these numbers to look better than they are.
In the 2017-2018 season, Westbrook led all guards in rebounding, and was 13th among all players, averaging 10.1 RPG. However, the surface level statistic may be misleading as there’s an advanced metric that shows just how inflated his simple rebound count was called Contested Rebound Percentage (CR%). A contested rebound is defined as a rebound that was grabbed when at least one other player on the opposing team was within 3.5 feet of you. Westbrook has a 21.5 CR%, which ranked 236th out of the 321 players who has at least 100 total rebounds. This means that a vast majority of the rebounds Westbrook grabbed were not fought for, and he only got the rebound because he was the closest player to the ball.
One may think that this shows that his high rebound numbers show that Westbrook isn’t as a valuable a rebounder as originally thought, but one eye-opening statistic leads us to believe otherwise. Of the 275 players who have played at least 1000 minutes, Westbrook is second to last in contested shots per 36 minutes, with only 3.5. He is also 271st in three-pointers contested (last among guards). Part of the reason Westbrook is always is position to rebound so well is because he is leaving his defensive assignment to get in position near the hoop, rather than getting in their faces and contesting their shots.
Another area where Westbrook’s pure numbers do not tell the whole truth is his assists. Westbrook led the league in assists, averaging 10.3 a game. This depicts that Westbrook is a great floor general who is making the right plays and making his teammates better, but that is not the case. Take a look at all the players who received at least 100 passes from Westbrook last season.
|Name||FG% when passed from Westbrook||FG% ||Difference|
| Paul George||39.9||43.0||-3.1%|
All four players shot worse than they normally shot when they received a pass from Westbrook. Similar to how Westbrook steals rebounds from his teammates, he will also try to force assists. When Westbrook is close to a triple double, he will pass up open shots in order to try to get his teammate to hit a shot off of a pass from him, which isn’t always the best decision. For example, take a look at this video from a game against the Phoenix Suns, where he was two assists away from breaking Oscar Robertson’s record of most triple-doubles in a season.
You can see Westbrook passing up WIDE open opportunities, and instead throwing the ball to someone who is being covered, or not in a good position to score. Here is another example, Westbrook passed the ball to Steven Adams in a position where he isn’t a great scorer, and yelling “shoot the ball” so he could get the assist.
All in all, Westbrook is a top point guard in the league. He can drive to the hoop like no other (6th in the league in points per game off of drives), and has a ferocious mentality. His extraordinary strength, vertical, and speed can make him virtually unguardable at times, especially in the open court, where he leads the league in fast break points. His problems derive from his decision-making (he has been top 2 in turnovers per game since the 2014 season and he takes over four three-pointers a game, but shoots an awful 29.8%) and his selfish motivations. The Thunder have enough talent to make a deep playoff run, but it all comes down to how Westbrook can take on a more team-oriented play style.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com
Edited by Peyten Maki.
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