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A Fan’s View of Russell Westbrook

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Is Russell Westbrook really that good?

Russell Westbrook isn’t very good:

No, I don’t watch every Oklahoma City Thunder game, but it’s beginning to feel like Russell Westbrook is detrimental to his teammates and perhaps even a choke artist. He whines to refs way too much, starts a beef with almost every other superstar when his play doesn’t back up his mouth, and most of all, he doesn’t understand the fact that he isn’t a good shooter. No player in the NBA frustrates me more than Russell Westbrook, and it’s gotten to the point where Westbrook’s status as a top-tier NBA superstar needs to be re-evaluated:

What he does right:

Sure, let’s give Westbrook credit where it’s due; he has averaged a triple-double in three straight seasons. That’s impressive. At 6’3”, grabbing over 10 rebounds per game for three seasons is tough to do. His defense could even be considered underrated. With 1.9 steals per game, he was fourth best in the NBA behind Paul George, James Harden, and Chris Paul. His DBPM has been over +3.1 for each of the last three years , and he is a pest with his on-ball defense (Oh my gosh, each passing sentence is like a dagger in my back). Besides that, Westbrook’s best strength is his speed. He and De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings are probably the two fastest players in the NBA right now (though Fox will say otherwise). Westbrook uses his speed to his advantage as he can get to the rim when he chooses to. And, as a result, he is excellent in transition. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way let’s talk about everything that frustrates me about Russell Westbrook:

Myth #1: Russell Westbrook is a good passer

Myth. Pure myth. Yes, Russell Westbrook did lead the NBA in assists per game for the second straight season. However, Westbrook is an absolute turnover machine. Westbrook was second in turnovers per game, behind James Harden, but Harden’s turnover rate is expected to be high with his usage rate at 40.5%, the highest since 2016-17 MVP Westbrook (we’ll hit on that season later). Even with Westbrook’s usage rate down to 30.1%, the lowest since the 2009-10 season, he still forced way too many plays that just weren’t there. He even led the NBA with 2.4 bad-pass turnovers per game, above Harden despite the significant usage difference. And, not to pull one straight out of the book of Jared Dudley, but most of Westbrook’s assists come from transition where he either lobs to Steven Adams or hits a shooter in the corner. Once you get him in half court, well, he becomes a lot worse.

Myth #2: Russell Westbrook was at any point in his career the best player in the NBA:

It was clear that Westbrook was always the second option to Kevin Durant when they were teammates. So how come everyone thought Westbrook was somehow better than Durant after KD left for GSW? There is no debate that when usage goes up, stats such as points, assists, and turnovers go up with it. No, I’m not here to say that Westbrook wasn’t great during his MVP 2016-17 season where he put up 31.6 ppg while averaging a triple-double, en route to a playoff appearance despite limited talent around him (actually, they had Oladipo - I’ll get to that later). Despite the beastly regular season where he carried them to the sixth seed in the west, the Thunder lost in five to James Harden and the Rockets. If I’m generous, the case could be made that Westbrook was at most, the third best player in the NBA that season.

At no point in their careers was Kevin Durant worse than Westbrook. Sure, Durant’s scoring went down during the 2016-17 season. And yes, everyone was/is still mad at him for going to Golden State and that’s fair to a certain extent; but when you go from playing with one border-line reliable scorer to a team with two of the top shooters in the league, numbers will inevitably go down. Everyone acted like Durant was playing poorly when in reality, he was still putting up 25 and 8 on the season. Durant did miss 20 games that season when Zaza Pachulia took out his knee.*

*I guess while we’re on the subject of Zaza, then sure Westbrook is in fact better at taking hits to the knee from Zaza Pachulia.*

It shouldn’t even be a question which player was better during the 2016-17 season between Lebron and Westbrook. Sure, Lebron did have more talent around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but Lebron carried that team to the NBA finals, and despite losing to the Warriors, still had a great season. Whether or not James has lost a step is another question, but that season was still prime Lebron, and it’s not even close as to which of the two was better.

James Harden, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Chris Paul could all make their cases as being better than Westbrook that year as well. Now, I’m not even sure if he belongs in the top twenty.

Myth #3: Russell Westbrook can lead a team deep in the playoffs

Actually, at this point, I’m not sure if he can prevent a team from getting knocked out in the first round with the volume of shots he takes. If you think about it, Russell Westbrook has never in his career been the best player on a championship-caliber team. During the Thunder’s final run in the 2011-2012 season, Westbrook was a good number 2 to arguably the best player in the NBA in Kevin Durant. Durant makes his teammates around him better, and the perfect example of this is in how he let Westbrook run that offense. Despite the high assists, it doesn’t feel like Westbrook is making his teammates around him better. Everyone likes to blame Carmelo Anthony for the Thunder’s collapse in the 2017-18 season, whereas I would put that on Westbrook. During that season, it felt like Anthony was put in a box and left on the wing while Westbrook would try to make a move. Maybe there’s some blame that should go to Carmelo for that, and perhaps some of the responsibility falls on Billy Donovan. But in my opinion, Westbrook is the reason Anthony didn’t do well with OKC.

Maybe this is an overstep but please hear me out on my what I’m about to say: Russell Westbrook nerfed Victor Oladipo. A lot of people forget at this point that Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, an all-star and border-line all-star, were both on the 2016-17 MVP Westbrook Thunder team. Yeah, they were the guys traded for Paul George. No, Sabonis was not hurt by Westbrook as a rookie. But I think Victor Oladipo was. When the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to acquire Oladipo, he was seen as a candidate for a breakout season, coming off a season where he had improved leaps and bounds as a ball-handler. During his lone season in OKC, Westbrook’s presence and ball-hogging forced Oladipo to have to play as more of a catch and shoot guy. After improving through each of his first three seasons, Oladipo had career lows with a -1.3 BPM and 0.4 VORP. Maybe that’s partially Billy Donovan’s fault, but I feel like this is an example of how Westbrook’s cancerous play-style can hurt his teammates. Yeah, Oladipo has improved a lot with the Pacers, but it’s not a huge coincidence that’s ‘Dipo’s development halted with the Thunder.

Fact #1: Russell Westbrook sucks in comparison to Damian Lillard

As a fan of the sport, it’s entertaining to see some jawing between two guys. But there is a vast difference between doing it to rally your team, and doing it to start a beef with other players for no given reason. Take Patrick Beverley, for example: he’s a scrappy competitor and loves to get into other players’ heads. He may get a tech while doing so, but in turn draws a tech from opponents and infuses energy into his team. With Westbrook, it doesn’t feel like he’s arguing with other guys for the sake of his own team; it feels more like he’s being pissy and therefore there’s no benefit to it.

Keeping that in mind, let’s break down the Damian Lillard-Russell Westbrook feud. It started about three years ago when Westbrook kicked a ball away from Dame during a timeout, much to the dismay of the Portland crowd. It was noteworthy for a few days and then went away for a while… until Westbrook brought it back as he tried to prove he’s better than Dame. To me, when I see this, it feels like Westbrooks tries too hard to get in Dame’s head, while Lillard quietly beats him. All in all, Lillard is known as a level-headed guy.

In 28 games played against one another, the series is relatively even with the Trail Blazers having a 15-13 advantage. However, Dame has two significant advantages: he’s a much better shooter, and even more important than that is he’s a much better teammate in terms of how other guys play around him. The shooting is pretty clear: Westbrook is 29.0% from 3, 65.6% from the line, and 35.8% between 16 feet and the 3 point line on the season whereas Dame shoots 36.3/91.2/47.3 percent from those areas. Westbrook doesn’t even seem to realize that he isn’t a good shooter. Yet, this man just keeps and keeps and keeps on shooting the freakin’ ball . Lillard, meanwhile, is cool with letting other players take shots when they’re hot. When C.J. McCollum is having a great night, Damian Lillard is completely okay with letting him take the big shots. In this way, Lillard makes the guys around him better. For comparison, Here are there stats from their playoff series:

Fact #2: Westbrook deserves the blame for losing to Portland in this year’s playoffs

While 100% of the liability can’t go into the arms of one player, Westbrook is easily the main reason why Thunder lost that series.

Late in games when the Thunder need a big shot, the ball should never be in the hands of Russell Westbrook. It has to be in the hands of Paul George. PG13 is OKC’s most reliable scorer and hit several winners throughout the season, including shots to beat Utah and Philadelphia. Westbrook, however, has choked several times late in games, most notably during the final stretch of game five against the Trail Blazers. In the last five minutes of the game, Westbrook missed the would-have-been go-ahead shot, while shooting 1-5, had a costly charging foul, and a dumb personal foul that put Moe Harkless on the line. Late in games, when a big shot is needed, Westbrook shouldn’t be allowed to touch the ball; Paul George needs to have it. Westbrook simply isn’t a good enough shooter to take those shots. The fact that Westbrook took 31 shots from the field (35.5%) in game 5, while PG13 took just 20 (70%), is unfathomable. Honestly, I think the Thunder would have been better off putting Westbrook on the bench during that stretch. Steven Adams didn’t do the Thunder any favors, but the unfortunate reality of the situation is that Westbrook killed the Thunder in game 5. And of course, this is not to take anything from Damian Lillard at all because that was an insane shot he hit.

There it is, I’ve stated my case. Westbrook is a fantastic athlete, but he’s also super irritating and overrated.

I hope you’ve enjoyed!

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