Russell Westbrook’s supporters will be the first to point to his assist numbers as a defense for his selfish play. Westbrook currently sits at 2nd in the league in assists per game at 9.6, which the average fan would equate to being an unselfish, pass-first player. This is where assist numbers can be deceiving:
2015-16 Russell Westbrook:
Westbrook is currently in the middle of a season that we haven’t quite seen in the league before, well, since Westbrook’s season last year (USG:38.4% and AST:47%), a season that included Kevin Durant missing 55 games. While having 2 superstars is usually a good problem to have, it’s quite the opposite when the better of the 2 is getting less touches. Westbrook’s offensive rating this season is at a career high 114 points per 100 possessions, while Durant is at 121. Westbrook has a true shooting percentage of 57% while Durant is at a crazy 64%. The Thunder basically have a 6-10 Stephen Curry playing 2nd fiddle. The fact that I just called KD a 6-10 Stephen Curry is preposterous! He’s Kevin f’n Durant, 2013 league MVP. Give him the rock.
To get a better perspective of the kind of season Westbrook is having, take a look at some of the other memorable assist kings:
Steve Nash (Suns Career Only):
Chris Paul (Clippers Career Only):
2015-16 Rajon Rondo (League Leader in Assists):
2015-16 Stephen Curry (League Leader in Points):
2009-10 LeBron James (Final season before going to Miami):
The game film, his usage percentage, and unusually high assist percentage show that the ball often sticks in Westbrook’s hands for most of each possession. The closest season to Westbrook’s is the last season LeBron spent in Cleveland before taking his talents to South Beach. That crunch-time offense consisted of isolating LeBron from behind the 3-point line, where he would drive and either try to score or dish to an open shooter. While that offense worked for regular season games, it was highly predictable against elite teams in the playoffs. That Cleveland team had no clear number 2 player, which makes it even more alarming that we are seeing Westbrook play in hero-LeBron-mode while playing with Kevin Durant. He doesn’t need to. His teammates unusually low assist percentage numbers also indicate that the Oklahoma City Thunder, have low to no ball movement in their offense, something the last 5 NBA champions thrived in (Mavs, Heat, Heat, Spurs, and Warriors):
The numbers point out the obvious: the Thunder run a predictable offense. 35% of the time the Thunder are going to run Russell Westbrook at you. When Westbrook decides to pass or can’t score, basically half of the time his teammate is going to take that shot. Teams with no ball movement become predictable during a 7 game series. The Lakers dynasty with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant may have consisted of 2 elite starters like Westbrook and Durant, but their assist percentages show that the Lakers distributed the ball when they had to and made the right play:
Out of the top 50 individual seasons posted for assist percentage, only 1 player won a championship: Magic Johnson in 1987. Check out the names on this list:
Russell Westbrook is the only player on this list with a usage percentage of above 30%.
Don’t get me wrong, the Oklahoma City Thunder need Russell Westbrook to reach the championship, they just need less of him to win it.
*All stats provided by basketball-reference.com