By Matthew Budkofsky
This week’s athlete of the week has to be none other than Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been on a tear since the end of February and continued his fantastic play over the course of this past week. In 3 games since March 5th, Westbrook has averaged 32.3 ppg, 10.3 apg, and 9.3 rpg. He has also chipped in on the defensive end with 2.6 steals per game because why not? These numbers are absolutely ridiculous. The last time we saw a player go on a run like this was when Michael Jordan had 10 triple doubles in 11 games. Westbrook has 5 triple doubles in 7 games, and 7 in total on the season. Nobody else in the league has more than 3. Most people have been astounded by Westbrook’s level of play, but he also has his fair share of haters. People have started to ask questions like “Is he really helping the team?” or “Is he just being a ball hog?” Those are both fair questions, but I think both of the answers are obvious.
Is Westbrook really helping the Thunder? Heck yeah he is. He is solely responsible for the Thunder maintaining a spot in the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Russell went down in the 2nd game of the season, and missed pretty much all of December with injury. The Thunder were forced to play without their two super stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and by the time Russ was set to return, the Thunder were 4-12 and found themselves in 13th place in the West. Not familiar territory for Thunder fans. Durant has not really been able to stay on the court this year, as he has only suited up for 28 of the Thunder’s 64 games this year. So it has really been up to Russell to carry the load. Since returning from his own injury, the Thunder has gone 31-17 with Westbrook at the helm. He has brought the team from 13th place all the way to 9th, just a half game back from the 8 seed. So for anyone that possibly thinks Russell Westbrook’s play is hurting the Thunder, you need to reevaluate your basketball knowledge.
Is Russ Westbrook just being a ball hog? This is actual a reasonable question. The knock on Westbrook has always been that he steals shots from Durant, and demands the ball too often. So it makes sense to think that now Durant is our, Westbrook is just chucking up shots non-stop. Over his past 6 games, Westbrook has averaged 28 shots per game, but he’s been shooting a solid 41% from the field. In his most recent game against the Clippers, Russ turned the ball over 10 times, which is a lot but not when you take a closer look. Westbrook’s usage rate is off the charts, and the higher a player’s usage rate is; typically the more he turns the ball over. His player efficiency rating is 2nd in the league only to Anthony Davis, so despite having the ball in hands so much he is still producing at a very high level. Again though, early on in the season the Thunder was struggling to score points without their 2 stars. Serge Ibaka is a very good player, but he can’t be looked upon to carry a team offensively. So even if Westbrook does dominate the ball, I don’t think it is such a bad thing for the team overall.
At the end of the day, Westbrook’s most recent stretch has vaulted him into the MVP conversation. You heard why on our most recent podcast, and even if you didn’t listen to that it’s quite obvious why. Russell Westbrook is an animal, and is unlike any other point guard to play in the NBA. It is time he is viewed as a top 3-point guard, and maybe even the best. Just because he is different doesn’t make him any worse a player.