Russell Westbrook Season Review: Twice in a lifetime

Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder - Russell Westbrook
OKC Thunder - Russell Westbrook /

The Ghost of Teammates Past

The national narrative in regards to the Thunder’s struggles this year have focused on two major themes: Russ’s inability to change his style of play to accommodate Paul George, and the resounding success of Skinny Oladipo in Indiana.

As for Victor Oladipo, of course he didn’t get better because he left Russell Westbrook. Put the numbers aside for him, and just look at the guy. It’s excessively obvious that Oladipo came into this season in the best shape of his life.

A simple search of images of Oladipo reveal a tremendous transformation, and Oladipo himself has attributed that to the things he learned from Russell Westbrook. Oh, and his three-point percentage this year was the highest of his career, and on the highest degree of difficulty. That is not on Russ.

The Ghost of Teammates Present

As for accommodating Paul George, everybody put your green visors on and get out your ten-key calculators. We’re about to get into some numbers.

In the 2017 season, Russell Westbrook took 24 field goal attempts per game, and Paul George took 18. In 2018, Russ took 21.1, and PG took 16.9. Both made a sacrifice (probably to give Carmelo Anthony more action, which was probably a mistake), but Russ ceded 2.9 of his shots, whereas PG only gave up 1.1. Russ gave up 12 percent of his shot attempts. Doesn’t that sound like sacrifice?

Let’s get advanced.

Westbrook’s Assist Ratio – his assists per 100 possessions used – increased from 23.4 in 2017 to 26.1 in 2018. At the same time, his Assist Percentage – the percentage of teammates’ field goals that he assisted on while on the floor – decreased from 54.3 in 2017 to 46.4 in 2018. Those numbers should have a positive correlation, unless the style of play changed.

The combination of these stats indicates two things. One: that Russ was a more willing passer this year. Compared to possessions he used (meaning a shot, free throw, or turnover), he assisted more often than last year. Two: that Russ allowed other players the opportunity to get assists more often than last year.

In short, Russ was sharing the ball more.

Usage Debate:

“But wait!” a Russ-hater might say. “Russell Westbrook’s Usage Rate was ridiculous this year, how can it be that he shared the ball?” Russ’s Usage Rate in 2017: 40.8 (the highest ever recorded). Russ’s Usage Rate in 2018: 33.2. Russ cut his Usage by 18.6%.

“That’s all well and good,” a Russ-hater might try again, “but Paul George definitely took a much higher Usage cut to make that work.” PG’s Usage Rate in 2017: 29.1. PG’s Usage Rate in 2018: 28.2. Barely a dip. Russ let PG play the exact game he always wanted to.

“Fine,” a Russ-hater might press, and honestly they’re seeming a little desperate now, “but Russ treated him like Oladipo, and the team’s performance must have suffered from him taking such an unnatural action.” Victor Oladipo’s Usage in his OKC season was16.5, so Russ respected PG in a way he never did for Dipo. Russ’s Offensive Rating this season was 110.0, and it was 107.9 last year. It worked.