The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost the least amount of times this season of any team in the league. At 34-11, they are just one game back of the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA.
The Thunder just finished up a 6-game road trip in which they won half of the games. They lost at Denver, Golden State and against the Los Angeles Lakers.
When analyzing why the Thunder lose games, you can point to a lot of things. But one thing drastically changes when the Thunder don’t win and that’s Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 assists per game this season. He’s shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 33.0 percent from downtown.
When the Thunder win, Westbrook shoots 44.3 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from behind the arc and turns the ball over just 2.9 times per game.
When OKC loses, Westbrook shoots 33.2 percent from the field, 21.1 percent from three and turns the ball over 4.9 times per game. Westbrook is also averaging five minutes more per game in losses which explains his increased shot attempts.
The thing that stands out the most is shooting percentage. Westbrook’s shoots 11.1 percent better in wins vs. losses, which is a huge disparity.
If you look more closely, you see that Westbrook is always shooting better when the Thunder are tied or ahead in a game. His true shooting percentage is about 53 percent with the Thunder tied or winning by up to 15 points. With the Thunder losing by 1-15 points, Westbrook has a true shooting percentage of around 47 percent.
Westbrook’s shooting percentage drops because he is shooting more when the Thunder are behind, which is not a good thing. This passes the eye ball test too as Westbrook has a reputation, that he has talked about, where he tries to do it himself when things aren’t going well for the Thunder.
If you look at Kevin Durant’s numbers in this way, there is much more consistency. He shoots about the same when the Thunder are ahead or behind. He is slightly down in losses vs. wins but not as drastically as Westbrook’s splits.
Something that often happens when the Thunder are in a tight game or trailing after three quarters is Scott Brooks will play Westbrook and/or Durant the entire second half. This might not be a good idea with Westbrook.
The increase of five minutes per game in losses seems to just be resulting in more missed shots and more turnovers for Westbrook. Durant only sees a marginal increase in minutes, shots and turnovers in losses.
Imagining a scenario with the Thunder trailing after three quarters, the Thunder would be better off not altering Westbrook’s rotation but should play Durant more.
Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to help much at all to play Westbrook more while the team is losing. His mindset seems to change when this is the case and it’s not for the greater good of the Thunder.
This is just another way to nitpick Westbrook though. As he matures, we will probably stop seeing this kind of stat with him and he will gain more consistency like Durant has.