What’s up with Westbrook?

Coach Nick (@bballsource) at BBallBreakdown had an astute observation recently:

Watching the playoffs, Westbrook hasn’t rubbed me the wrong way like he did in the regular season. Need to figure out why.

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with the statement. I don’t have Coach Nick’s keen eye for breaking down the game, but I am pretty good at breaking down the numbers. Let’s take a quick look at Westbrook this season and what’s changed.

Regular Season Westbrook

If we look at the top Thunder players courtesy of The NBA Geek here’s how the Thunder break down

Player Position Games Minutes Played WP48 Wins
Kevin Durant SF 66 2546 0.226 12.0
James Harden SG 62 1946 0.263 10.7
Serge Ibaka PF 66 1792 0.263 9.8
Russell Westbrook PG 66 2331 0.102 4.9

Westbrook has been an average point guard this season. Now, that’s not a bad thing. A team with three great players needs to be surrounded by at least average players (or else they end up like the Clippers) It may be surprising to think of Westbrook, who gets almost 24 points a game as average. We won’t disagree that he’s a good scorer. Let’s break down how Westbrook contributes to the Thunder using Win Score (the simplified version of Wins Produced) and Points over Par (translating stats into what point edge it gains your team) We can breakdown Westbrook:

Net Points is points minus field goal attempt and 0.44 per free throw attempt. Win Score is an approximation, so it won’t add up exactly with Wins Produced.

Stat Russell Westbrook Average PG PoP
Offensive Rebounds  2.0  0.9  1.1 
Net Points  1.7  0.9  0.8 
Steals  2.3  1.9  0.4 
Personal Fouls  3.0  3.4  0.4 
Defensive Rebounds  4.3  3.9  0.2 
Assists  7.5  8.3  -0.4 
Turnovers  4.9  3.5  -1.4 
 TOTAL  0.8

Westbrook is a good scorer. In fact when it comes to most things he’s above average. As a point guard though he’s had two major flaws this season. His assists and turnovers are really bad. If Westbrook were an average playmaker then his superb scoring and other skills would make him a star (which we’ve seen in the past) However, since his playmaking was so below average this season, his overall contribution amounted to “meh”. Now, what happened in the playoffs?

Westbrook in the playoffs

2011-2012 Top Thunder through round 2 of the Playoffs.

Player Position Games Minutes Played WP48 Wins
Kevin Durant SF 9 366.4 0.213 1.6
James Harden SG 9 273.2 0.253 1.4
Russell Westbrook PG 9 324.5 0.203 1.4
Serge Ibaka PF 9 254.0 0.229 1.2

Westbrook changed from being average to being a star. The Thunder changed from a three-headed beast to a four-headed beast and the previous two title holders fell in a mere nine games. What the heck happened to Westbrook?

Stat Russell Westbrook Average PG PoP
Net Points  2.6  0.9  1.7 
Turnovers  2.0  3.5  1.5 
Steals  2.5  1.9  0.6 
Offensive Rebounds  1.5  0.9  0.6 
Defensive Rebounds  4.7  3.9  0.4 
Personal Fouls  2.8  3.4  0.3 
Assists  5.9  8.3  -1.2 
 TOTAL  3.9

Westbrook’s already great scoring got better. Surprisingly though, his turnovers went from his biggest weakness to his second greatest strength! He didn’t improve his passing. In fact, it got worse. His improved scoring and decreased turnovers though, more than compensated. The rest of his game stayed solid and the result was a star performance.

Summing up

Westbrook’s strength has been in his scoring for several seasons now. This can be tremendously helpful to a team, provided Westbrook can manage to stay average as a playmaker. Doing this means controlling his assist to turnover ratio. His turnovers have been bad most of his career. If he can keep these in check though, he’s a great scorer on a great team. Here’s hoping he keeps it up.


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