OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook’s player impact by the numbers

Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

To all of the Russell Westbrook haters claiming he’s a bad OKC Thunder teammate, consider the numbers first. The proof is in the pudding.

Being a teammate involves many things. Simply put, a player is one of five on the court and it’s his job to use his strengths and mask weaknesses in order to give his team the best chance to win. By making a particular player one of the five on the court, the head coach has decided those players give the team the best opportunity to win, or at least to perform well in that particular situation. And in doing so, the coach sacrifices the possible impact of the other eight players.

That’s an obvious definition, but it’s important to understand the foundation of analytics before diving too deep. From there, things begin to get a little complicated.

In the era of advanced analytics, it can be easy to move numbers around and look from different perspectives to prove the argument you’re trying to make. And yet, despite the technology available, many “experts” still claim Russell Westbrook isn’t a good teammate based almost solely on the eye test. Westbrook haters often make gross generalizations based on small sample sizes or on opinions of the media. Either way, it’s a flawed perspective.

Continuing the trend of simple, here are some easy-to-understand analytics which accurately represent Westbrook’s impact. All statistics and facts come from nba.com and pbpstats.com.

For starters, Westbrook’s presence on the floor changes everything for OKC. He’s a ball-dominate point guard who acts first and thinks later. Yes, there are negatives to his style, but it’s helped the Thunder more than it has hurt. In fact, his teammate’s shot quality is far better when he’s on the floor.

Even more so than LeBron James’ teammates, who are commonly said to benefit more than any other team in the league. Furthermore, the Thunder’s team assists jump by 5.36 when he’s on the floor and they score at a rate of +10.41 per 100 possessions.

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Scoring is a point of emphasis for the Thunder, as they’ve struggled to put the ball in the basket last year. Especially without their fearless leader on the court. OKC finished last in bench points last season at 25.9 points per game. So it was up to the starters to score roughly 75 percent of the points in all 81 games. And that would just be to get to 100 points in a game. It would often take more than that to win, as opponents scored on average 104.4 points per game.

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With two primarily defensive-oriented players in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson (later Corey Brewer), along with a struggling Carmelo Anthony in the starting lineup, Westbrook and Paul George did the heavy lifting.

Fortunately, Adams improved greatly on offense, as he and Westbrook combined for the highest assisted duo in the league.Without overlooking the bad news, there are a few negatives to having Westbrook on the floor. His quick style of play leads to many unforced errors and bad shot selection.

Possessions lasted just under 14 seconds, which would ideally be a bit longer when running a half-court offense. The team finished 16th overall in pace, and saw an increase of 6.82 with Westbrook. However, things aren’t always bad as they seem.

With Westbrook on the court, OKC averages just over three more assists while Westbrook is on the floor and actually see a slight decrease in turnovers. Those two things result in an extra five points alone, in addition to the spike in points as stated above.

In fairness, these numbers can be taken the wrong way. I think most people would agree LeBron James is a better player than Russell Westbrook. After all, James played for an arguably less talented team, while Westbrook had several players, including George, around him. If all things were equal, these numbers would look a bit different.

There were times Westbrook relied heavily on his teammates and others when he put the team on his back. But all things considered, it’s hard to speculate inflation rates based on teammates and organizational situations.

What we do know, however, is that the numbers support Westbrook in almost every way. He’s the lifeblood of the Thunder, and even when haters are rolling their eyes at an unforced error, it’s undeniable his overall impact is positive. Going beyond the numbers, not one of Westbrook’s teammates past or present has claimed he’s a bad teammate.

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One can argue stat padding and number inflation based on lack of talent around him, and that’s fine. While the Westbrook haters base their fallacies on small sample sizes or broad generalizations, OKC Thunder fans can point to the facts.