Russell Westbrook has gotten better every season that he has been in the NBA. Just ten games into his fifth season in the league this year, he is shooting a career-low 38.8 percent from the field.
Despite the low shooting percentage and four point per game drop in scoring, you can make the case that Westbrook has once again improved over the offseason and is playing the best basketball of his career.
Westbrook is also averaging a career-high 8.5 assists per game this season while turning the ball over a career-low 3.0 times per game. Westbrook was up above eight assists per night in his second and third seasons with the Thunder but saw that number drop to just 5.5 per game last season.
James Harden’s increased workload as the team’s playmaker last season is part of why Westbrook was averaging less assists per game. But it wasn’t just that. His mentality was different as he was coming into his own as a scorer averaging a career-best 23.6 points per game last year and shooting a career-best 53.8 true shooting percentage.
What the Thunder need from Westbrook has changed this season since trading Harden and Westbrook seems up to the challenge becoming more of a playmaker. This year we are seeing Serge Ibaka put up significantly more points and look no further than Westbrook as to the reason why.
Ibaka is up to 14.5 points per game this season after averaging less than 10 per game last year. Nearly 80 percent of his field goals are assisted this year with Westbrook assists accounting for over 55 percent of those baskets.
With Harden out, the team knew they would need Ibaka to increase his scoring output and Westbrook has made sure that’s happened. That’s what a good point guard does and this is the next development in Westbrook this season.
Westbrook is still having trouble juggling scoring and distributing. It’s still looks to be against his instincts at times to pass off when he is so capable of getting his own shot.
Expect Westbrook to continue to put up high assist totals this season and also expect his shooting numbers to go way up. He’s always been a slow starter in terms of shooting and there’s no reason to think he’ll finish the season below 40 percent.
Westbrook is still scoring 19.6 points per game this year and if he can get his field goal percentage back up to where it was last year around 46 percent, then we can expect close to 25 a night from Westbrook again too.
The ultimate ceiling for Westbrook as a point guard with the Thunder is becoming a 25 and 10 guy, something that has rarely happened in NBA history for point guards. The last time was the 1990-91 season when Denver’s Michael Adams averaged 26.5 points and 10.5 assists per game. Before that, Tiny Archibald did it once and Oscar Robertson did it five times in the 1960’s.
Westbrook isn’t that far off from those kinds of numbers. It’s pretty unlikely he gets there this year but don’t be surprised if he’s in that territory in the near future.