In a league where guards are getting more and more explosive by the year, Russell Westbrook may be the most explosive. Given, we haven’t seen Derrick Rose play in a few months. But that’s probably his only competition right now along with John Wall. That’s saying something. Not many athletes are gifted with his physical talents.
Initially in his career, Westbrook just used those gifts to play basketball. He charged at defenses with reckless abandon and didn’t practice any patience on the basketball court. As recently as last season, we saw this kind of behavior for Westbrook.
Going into this season, I didn’t have Westbrook as highly rated as a point guard because of that lack of patience. I always understood his situation in needing to score, but I felt that he didn’t make those around him better. This season, its been a different story. Westbrook has done a lot more for his team after James Harden was traded to Houston.
Things he does well
Westbrook has performed to some very high standards this season. Again, once Harden was traded the ball handling responsibilities of everyone else went up. Losing the assists that Harden was bringing you off of the bench was crucial. People questioned whether or not Westbrook would be more of a passer or not.
Well, Russell has answered the bell this season. He’s averaging a career high 8.7 assists per game and is assisting on 42% of his team’s field goals per basketball reference.
He’s also becoming one of the better defensive point guards in the league, too. Per NBA.com’s wonderful advanced statistics, Westbrook allows only 100.6 points per 100 possessions.
That’s nothing new for him as it was below 100 last season. The season before that, it was 105, so he’s shown clear improvement there. Per 82games on/off court stats, the Thunder allow 3.2 more points per 100 possessions with Westbrook off the court.
He’s playing better defense on pick and roll ball handlers as well. He’s showing a clear understanding of when to go under and over screens and protecting from paint penetration. His lateral quickness is amazing and he’s using that more on defense than he ever has.
One of the most underrated things Westbrook does that a lot of players can’t is stay healthy. Health is a big aspect in today’s NBA–especially for point guards. We’ve seen guys like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and others falling in and out of games in recent years. Westbrook hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season. He’s remained healthy and has 342 consecutive games played in. Its not farfetched to call him an ironman at this point in his career–especially with the way he plays. He’s always giving 100% effort on each side of the floor at 100 miles per hour.
Westbrook has always had a sense of hot-headedness with him and that still hasn’t changed to some degree. He’s become a wiser player–especially when it comes to just charging into the lane when defenders have bludgeoned the paint.
He’s not turning the ball over as much as he has in the past. Its about on par with where he’s been at for the majority of his career. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t still making some bad decisions. Bad decisions don’t always come in the form of a turnover. They can also be pegged down to bad shots and bad shot selection.
Westbrook is taking almost one less shot per game this season than last, but he’s also shooting 41% from the field. That’s a horrid percentage for a player who has the talent to easily shoot at least 45%. He’s scoring 21.2 points per game on 18 shots per game with only a little over seven makes per game. That’s not good enough by any standard of a superstar player.
Per Synergy, Westbrook only draws shooting fouls 7.9% of the time on his scoring plays. For someone who’s shooting a lot, that’s an abysmal percentage. Take a look at Russell’s shot chart this season. Notice the high concentration of midrange jumpers between 5-15 feet.
That’s way too many shots in that area. His shot selection obviously still needs work.
So, with that being said, I’ve got Russell as my third best point guard in the league without Derrick Rose playing. Westbrook has showcased effective point guard skills practicing patience on picks and returning to the distributing point guard that he was two seasons ago.
He’s an improved player on the defensive end and that counts a lot for me. As a point guard, defending the pick and roll is something that you’re going to do all season long. There’s no question that he’s improved in that area and he’s going to continue to improve.
His shot selection is sometimes questionable, but his facilitation this season makes up for it. Oklahoma City has become one of the better passing teams in the NBA.
That’s why he’s the third best point guard in the league. As he advances in the league he’ll continue to climb this list.