2015-2016 Season Grades: Russell Westbrook

Mar 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after dunking against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. Oklahoma City defeated Toronto 119-100. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after dunking against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. Oklahoma City defeated Toronto 119-100. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

There is not much to say about Russell Westbrook that has not already been said. But he is that awesome that I’m going to say them anyway.

Coming into the season, there were some questions about Westbrook and how he would perform this year. After a stat sheet stuffing explosion in 2014-2015, where he averaged 28.1 points a game and won the scoring title, how he would return to playing with fellow superstar Kevin Durant was yet to be seen.

At the end of the regular season, I think those questions have been answered. Russ was brilliant this year, and his relentless attacking and physicality from the point guard position are like nothing I have ever seen on a basketball court. He finished the regular season averaging 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists. He was a triple-double machine, racking up a monstrous 18 for the year, tying Magic Johnson for the most since the 1981-82 season, four of which were in under 30 minutes.

He danced, dunked and shot his way to another All-Star Game MVP, and forced his way into the conversation for second-place in the actual MVP voting. He will in all likelihood be voted first-team All NBA for the first time in his career this year as well. Overall it was another phenomenal year from Westbrook, one that we should not take for granted.


The offensive side of the ball is Russell’s forte. He endlessly attacks the basket, trying to dunk on anything and everything in his path. He is unstoppable in transition and the best offensive rebounding guard in the game. So let’s look at what exactly Russ does on offense that makes him so effective.

The most basic play in any NBA playbook is the simple high pick and roll. It’s simple, but it’s the most common play for a reason: it works. It works now, worked 40 years ago and will probably still work 40 years in the future. But what makes it unguardable in many cases are the players who are running it. Russ is one of those players.

Watch this video and try to ignore that it’s the Lakers. Watch Robert Sacre and Roy Hibbert on these two pick and rolls.

As soon as Russ turns the corner, they both begin retreating furiously toward the basket. Slow-footed centers are very worried about Russ’s speed and ability to blow by them for layups and dunks. While the center is retreating and attempting to hold his ground against Westbrook, Steven Adams rolls down the lane for an easy jam. Simple, but effective.

The last play in this video is something that Russ has done more of this year than he has in years past. Whenever Russ gets a smaller guard on him, he takes him straight to the post. Teams respect his post up game and he can draw double teams, opening up easy passes for dunks like in the above video. Even when his opponent is not extremely small, Westbrook’s strength and physicality can just overpower them, as he does to John Wall here.

Westbrook on the fast break is terrifying for defenders. When he gets the ball and comes flying down the court, there is little you can do to stop him. His eurostep is one of the best in the league. I almost tear a groin muscle just watching it. Here is a nasty eurostep in semi-transition. Sorry John Wall.

Westbrook had an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent, a career best, but shooting threes is still a struggle for Russ. Westbrook launched 341 three this year, 53 more than he shot the year before. He only shot 30 percent on those attempts, well below the league average of 35%. Westbrook threes are not always terrible shots, but he needs to cut down on early in the shot clock pull-up threes. This year he shot 33 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, as opposed to 28.5 percent on pull-ups, per NBA.com.

Another element to Westbrook’s offensive game is his rebounding. He pulled down 1.8 offensive rebounds a game this year, a huge number for a guard, and his hustle will keep a lot of plays alive and lead to valuable extra possessions down the stretch.

Cries of Russ not being a true point guard have been buzzing around the league since the first time Westbrook took the floor for the Thunder. Although I am not a big believer of pigeonholing players to a position, Russ silenced a lot of critics with is 10.4 assists per game this year, second only to Rajon Rondo who refuses to shoot the ball. Russ has perfected the pick-and-roll lob to Steven Adams as we saw earlier and threads needles with laser beam passes. However, he does take some unnecessary risks with some passes, which led him to come in second in the league in turnovers behind James Harden.

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Russ can be a good defender when he is engaged. When he is not, he can easily fall asleep and lose his man (as detailed here). In games that he really tries to lock down, he is long, strong and has quick hands and great anticipation skills. I’ll never forget him picking Mike Conley‘s pocket on the biggest defensive possession of the Thunder’s season in 2014. He finished this year at an even two steals a game, good for fifth in the Association.

Westbrook does give up a lot of easy buckets when going for these steals, a subject much maligned by many Thunder fans. The idea of gambling for steals is complicated and if you want to try to wrap your head around it, read this article from Nylon Calculus about the risk/reward of steals. The main concept is that steals generate very high quality shots on the other end, so it may be a risk worth taking. I, personally, don’t mind him gambling, especially early in games, in order to try to get some easy buckets.

Russ’s rebounding is also a great weapon on the defensive end. A possession isn’t over until you have secured the rebound, and Westbrook’s rebounding from the point guard position is a huge reason the Thunder are the best rebounding team in the league. He can get in the habit of chasing rebounds and leaving his man. This can hurt the Thunder in games against teams like the Warriors or Trail Blazers when offensive rebounds turn into backbreaking threes almost every time.

Next: Season Grades: Serge Ibaka

Russell Westbrook is one of the best players in the game of basketball today. Watching him dunk on opponents and scream at the crowd, while he seemingly sleepwalks his way into another triple double is a spectacular sight to behold. This is one of the best all around seasons from a single player in league history and one I’ll never forget from Russell Westbrook. I’ll leave you with this…

Overall Grade: A