Point/Counterpoint: Is Westbrook helping or hurting the Thunder?

Point: Westbrook sacrifices efficiency for usage rate

Tony Attia

Sports Blogger

@Tonyattiaokst

 

The Thunders' Russell Westbrook faces off against former teammate Kevin Durant on Thursday. (Keith Allison, Flickr)
The Thunders’ Russell Westbrook might be hurting his team more than helping them with his extreme usage rates. (Keith Allison, Flickr)

When Kevin Durant penned his farewell letter to Oklahoma City, two thoughts came to mind: You’ve got to be kidding me, the Warriors are going to run rampage through the association, and what the hell is Westbrook going to do this season. Westbrook is the most explosive athlete I have ever laid my eyes on; he plays with a ferociousness and competitiveness that is more aptly described as an artistic expression than an athletic performance.

And that’s the problem.

Westbrook is always revving his engine at peak speed, zipping around to the point of recklessness. Having Durant sort of forced him to slow down just slightly, because Durant commanded and deserved to have the ball in his hands. Now sans K.D, there will be nobody to reign in Westbrook, and given the sample of games he’s played without Durant and historical trends of players in this situation, I don’t see this boding well for the Thunder in the long run.

The 2014-2015 season is the best example of what an unleashed Westbrook can produce; Durant missed a total of 55 games, with Westbrook playing in 39 contests in which Durant was out. In those games Russell averaged an astounding 31.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists. On the surface those are historic stats, and speak to his individual brilliance. However, during that stretch he also averaged 4.4 turnovers and shot 43 percent from the field and 30% from 3-point land. His statistical volume came at a cost to efficiency, and ultimately the Thunder went 21- 18 in the games where Westbrook was the sole star on the court. Extrapolated to a full season, that would land them at 44 wins, good enough for a 5th seed last year. That’s what Russell Westbrook dominating every possession lands a franchise, a 5th seed and a probable first round exit.

His situation is strikingly similar to 2005-2006 Kobe Bryant, when Bryant set an NBA record for usage rate at 38.74. In 2014-2015, Westbrook came within .38 percentage points of breaking that record, and that was with 27 games where he and Durant shared the floor together. Through four games this year, Russell has an unfathomable usage rate of 44.1, which would shatter the record. He’s already had a game in which he took 44 shots on an abysmal 38 percent shooting. Sure, the Thunder are 4-1, but they’ve played the lowly, lottery bound 76ers, Suns and Lakers in three of those games. When the schedule’s difficulty increases, their record will regress, as was seen Thursday against Golden State.

Russell Westbrook is a transcendent talent who gives not a speck of care to anyone’s thought about his game or his style choices; that’s why we love him. Unfortunately, the same force of nature will, swagger and confidence he exudes will be the downfall of both him and the Thunder.

 

Counterpoint: Give that man the basketball

Jacob Derichsweiler

Staff Reporter

@JacobDersh

Everyone knows Russell Westbrook is a unique player in the NBA. He has been tearing up the league with his physical style of play, showing off his aerial attacks with monster dunks, flashy passing ability and his hard-nosed rebounding. Without Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder would not be threat at all.

The break up of the duo of Kevin Durant and Westbrook was the talk of the summer. To add insult to injury, Durant left to join the infamous Golden State Warriors who came back from a 3-1 lead to win the Western Conference Finals.

Now the team belongs to Westbrook.

With the team riding the blazing performances of Westbrook this season, will his style of ultimately hurt the team?

No way.

Even though Westbrook does not have the dominant scorer in Durant with him, he still has a solid supporting cast around him.

To help out Westbrook out this summer, the Thunder went out and traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo. Oladipo has had a nice career so far, averaging 16 points per game and 4 assists per game. Also the addition arguably gives the Thunder the most athletic backcourt in the NBA.

With supporting cast being mentioned, you can’t forget about the Stache Bros., Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. The recent rise of Adams has made him one of the best defensive centers and a household name in the state of Oklahoma. Alongside the Kiwi is Kanter, coming off the bench as a solid scoring center, who has decent range.

Some may argue that the season will just be the Westbrook show with him packing his stats.

But that may not be the worst thing that happens for the team.

Since 2014, Westbrook has 31 triple-doubles. The Thunder’s record when Westbrook has a triple-double is 27-4 since 2014. Last season Westbrook had 18 triple-doubles, and the Thunder were 18-0 when Westbrook had a triple-double.

The numbers that Westbrook has produced without Durant are more than exceptional.

Of the last eight seasons in 526 games with Durant, Westbrook averaged 21 points, five assists and eight rebounds. Without Durant in 61 games Westbrook averages 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Although the number of games is at a large difference, the increase in Westbrook’s numbers are still significant.

For Thunder fans, this season is full of curiosity and anticipation.

The start of the 2016-2017 season sees the Thunder off to a 4-0 start, and Westbrook has been outstanding. Westbrook is averaging 38 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds. The Thunder needs Westbrook to have these types of numbers to stay relevant in the loaded Western Conference.

If the Thunder want to keep winning, they will make sure Westbrook’s fingerprints are all over the ball.

ozone@ocolly.com

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