Russell Westbrook and Paul George will bring everything, but they’ll need more

Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook /
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Are OKC Thunder stars as reliable in the playoffs as assumed? Can they do it on their own? Let’s dive deep into the stats.

The great thing about having star players, and the thing the OKC Thunder have been depending on all season, is that those players are able to elevate their performances for the postseason. For the sake of argument and example, take the career and playoff splits of these three players.

Russell Westbrook

Regular Season: 23.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists
Post-season:      25.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists

Paul George

Regular Season: 18.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists
Post-season:      19.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists

LeBron James

Regular Season: 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists
Post-season:      28.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.9 assists (my god)

As you can see, all three of them have excelled during the playoffs. This is commonly accepted of the NBA’s best, but at first glance, it doesn’t add up. How can these players average better statistics against greater competition?

The playoffs are played against the Spurs and the Warriors and the Celtics. Hence, there are no stat padding nights against the Kings in the playoffs (sorry, Sacramento fans, your 12 year drought made you the only appropriate example).

An increase in minutes, an increase in effort, and an increase in need allow players of this caliber to overcome the large increase in the level of competition and somehow improve their performance. So, with the Thunder facing a 2-1 deficit in their opening series against the Utah Jazz, it’s worth asking: Do these star players have yet another level to go to when they absolutely need to? It turns out, a little, but not a lot.


Below are the stats for these same three players, using the following parameters. In addition to posting these stats, I’d like to formally request that LeBron stop playing so many playoff games. It’s been really inconvenient for me. Chill, Bron.

  • All “must-wins” are games in which the player’s team was trailing in the series
  • Game sevens are included (might as well be trailing, right?)
  • The first year of playoffs for each player was eliminated from each stat, thus the difference from the above playoff stat. None of them were yet the fully realized version of themselves, so couldn’t really be expected to elevate their play to this degree. (Hence, Prime Post-Seasons)
  • No stats from this season’s playoffs were used (Russ’s aren’t very good – I’m hoping they get better).
  • Stats compared against each player’s playoff averages (with those same two seasons eliminated).

With no further ado, the stats from absolute must-win playoff games for Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and LeBron James:

Russell Westbrook

Prime Post-season:        25.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists
Must-win Post-season: 27.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 8.9 assists

Paul George

Prime Post-season:        20.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists
Must-win Post-season: 21.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists

LeBron James

Prime Post-season:        28.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.9 assists
Must-win Post-season: 30.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists

First of all, LeBron, wow. Second, all three players increase slightly in all three statistics, with the exception of PG’s assists. Full disclaimer: Russ’s stats are skewed by his playoff performance last year, in which the Thunder were trailing the Rockets for four of the five games and Russ went absolutely off. But, that aside, based on how much difference the Thunder can expect from their stars now that they trail in the series, they can expect, like, a few extra points.

That would be the same if LeBron was on the team.