Russell Westbrook makes his debut as a visitor and in hindsight, his trade may be the greatest gift he ever gave the OKC Thunder.
This evening the OKC Thunder tips off versus the Houston Rockets but it’s not a typical game versus a top Western opponent. Russell Westbrook makes his return to the Peake as a visitor for the first time and it’s also the only time this season he’ll appear in OKC.
Over the past few days, the franchise paid homage to the former cornerstone and the point guard himself has enthused about his fond memories of his time with the organization and in the city. Suffice to say there is nothing but fond memories all around.
This past offseason, Westbrook re-joined former OKC Thunder teammate and childhood friend James Harden in Houston. The duo has positioned themselves in the third seed and is figuring out a way to function seemingly to good effect so far.
With Westbrook’s return, there are countless memories dancing in our heads of his time spent here and all the gifts he brought this young franchise. But, as we reminisce about the Brodie’s 11 seasons with the OKC Thunder arguably his best gift is his farewell present. Specifically, the player and the picks which came back to the Thunder via his trade.
Russell Westbrook trade delivered copious draft gifts:
For as much as Westbrook epitomized the culture and identity of this organization as OKC turns a corner and enters a new era, the team is thriving. The draft closet is full including the two picks and two draft swaps Sam Presti leveraged in the trade. That might seem like a throwaway given where the Rockets currently sit. However, given those picks will come in 2024 and 2026 who is to say where Houston will reside by that time?
The 2021 and 2025 draft swaps as teams have proven can also net major advantages. Consider the potential these swaps allow —- for example, the Thunder could play all out to get a top seed and if the Rockets stumble at all in those seasons the Thunder could effectively end up with a lottery pick and a home court seed. That’s is how valuable those picks and swaps are.
Moreover, as teams like the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors are proving, solid scouting can produce massive effects on building depth and talent. Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett are all playing valuable minutes for the Raptors and NOT ONE was drafted. Norman Powell was the 46th pick and Pascal Siakam was the 27th pick.
Miami is using the trio of Tyler Herro (drafted 13th) Kendrick Nunn (undrafted) and Duncan Robinson (undrafted) to great effect this season with them arguably being the most valuable players behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Chris Paul fits OKC Thunder perfectly in the new system:
But dive deeper and the argument that Chris Paul despite his massive contract is paying dividends beyond the statistics exists. His leadership is palpable and the chemistry of the team is robust, happy and humming along. It’s hard to believe that isn’t a direct effect of Chris Paul.
And, this is not intended to slag Westbrook. Rather, it’s a case of logic in that CP3 is more of a typical point guard who prefers to “run the team” via a structured system.
Diving into the numbers offers further evidence. Paul’s PER (20.7) and wins shares (4.7) are higher than Westbrook’s (18.3 and 1.8 respectively) this season.
Although Westbrook posts a higher rate for points and assists Paul has better efficiency and doesn’t need to be load managed despite his additional three years on Russ. Notably, CP3 doesn’t tend to cough up the ball at the same rate as Westbrook which is partially a factor of their ability and of the speed of pace their teams utilize.
The stat that leaps off the page is the number of field goal attempts with CP3 taking 12.1 versus Russ’ 21.2 and yet the difference in points is 7.5 points. More specifically, in clutch time the Rockets will utilize James Harden and occasionally look to Westbrook.
On the OKC Thunder although Paul is happy to concede to whoever is rolling or most open he’s also shown he more than capable of being the primary scorer with two recent wins still resonating in the fan base where Paul simply took over to win the game.
Clearly, Westbrook holds the offensive rebounding advantage but Paul owns the advantage in every aspect of the box (offensive, defensive and total box plus/minus) as well as the value over replacement player.
Again, this isn’t meant to shade Westbrook as his presence on the Rockets has pulled them out of the basement pace per game to lead the league and if he can continue to hit either mid-range shots or improve upon his perimeter shot he’ll be a vital alternative for the Rockets in the postseason.
But, for the current iteration of the OKC Thunder, there is a solid argument why Chris Paul isn’t just fitting in but is quite possibly the best option of veteran talent to fulfill the position and role he is thriving in.
After a few seasons of pulling out my hair over Dennis Schroder not using his full potential to pass the ball when shooters are open or forcing shots, he’s abandoned those bad habits for the most part.
Although the team (or Schroder) hasn’t specifically come out and said this is a direct correlation to the effect of Paul the ties are obvious.
The clutch metrics speak for themselves as Chris Paul leads most clutch categories and has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to feast in that very crucial situation. He leads all clutch time performers with 103 points at a gawdy efficiency rate of 55 percent. The nearest competitor is Zach LaVine of the Bulls with 83 points at 33 percent efficiency (and check the standings for who is making a bigger difference in the win column!).
In fact, several of the OKC Thunder players show up in clutch stats given how often they are in clutch time scenarios and more importantly the numerous victories in those situations.
Ultimately, for all the gifts Russell Westbrook gave the OKC Thunder the value of what the franchise received in his trade may end up being the most important and have the longest lasting value well into the team’s future.