It surprised a lot of people back in 2008 when the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Russell Westbrook with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Westbrook definitely looked like he had the talent to play at the next level but there were a lot of questions surrounding him coming out of UCLA. No one knew if he could handle playing the point guard position in the NBA or how he’d do alongside Kevin Durant.
It has worked out pretty well.
Recently during the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT, former Thunder analytics consultant Ben Alamar sat down with Zach Lowe with Grantland to discuss his book and time with the Thunder organization.
The Thunder are pretty secretive with how they operate and Alamar coming out and sharing a few things were pretty interesting.
The most interesting thing is who the Thunder were also drafting with that No. 4 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. If not Westbrook, the Thunder were considering picking center Brook Lopez. Imagine how different that would have panned out.
Alamar goes in depth about how the Thunder used film to analyze Westbrook when he was the primary ball handler at UCLA. There were a few games when Darren Collison was out and certain points in every game where Westbrook essentially played the point.
The Thunder’s grading of Westbrook’s decision-making as a point guard had him ranked right up there with Collison and even Derrick Rose. Even though the first thing that jumped out about Westbrook was his athleticism and potential, the analytics also backed him up.
Alamar said he really went to bat for Westbrook even going further than his analytics supported expressing his desire that the Thunder draft him instead of Lopez.
The Thunder obviously made the right choice here. Lopez is a solid NBA player who made his first All-Star team this year but not even close to in the class of Westbrook.