Last night in the Western Conference Finals, Russell Westbrook messed around and dropped a line of 40 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals. He hit 12 of his 24 shots and made all 14 free throws he attempted. You know, not a terrible night.
Basketball-reference.com has a cool tool that allows you to search for single game statistics since 1985. Here's a list of players since that time who have posted 40 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals in a playoff game, other than Russ.
1) Michael Jordan
That's it. That's the entire list.
What's even more impressive: Westbrook posted those same numbers with 10 less field goals than Jordan. Not to mention Jordan had his game in the first round of the playoffs against the Cavaliers, while Westbrook had his against the best team in the NBA in the Western Conference Finals. For all of the Westbrook haters who claim that he shoots too much and is inefficient offensively, it's hard to argue with 50% from the field and 100% from the line.
Speaking of offensive efficiency, Westbrook played 45 minutes and only had three turnovers. That's a pretty good ratio. Had I put in the turnovers in Basketball Reference's player game finder, it would have come up with only Westbrook.
Whole Season Stats
So maybe the Westbrook critics admit he had a good game last night, but point to season-long statistics as to why he's not a superb NBA player. Cool, let's do it.
This season, Westbrook averaged 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. Let's play the "Who Else Has Done That" game again, just to see how Westbrook stacks up historically. Here's the list of players in the history of the NBA who have matched Westbrook's stats this year, along with how many seasons they did it.
1) Oscar Robertson - 10
2) LeBron James - 6
3) Magic Johnson - 3
4) Larry Bird - 2
5) Wilt Chamberlain - 2
6) John Havlicek - 2
7) Richie Guerin- 1
8) Michael Jordan - 1
9) Gary Payton - 1
10) Lenny Wilkens - 1
Here's a trivia question for you: What do all of those players have in common except for the only active one, LeBron James?
All of them are in the Hall of Fame.
"But he only played 46 games this year, so those statistics are inflated!" Fair enough. So instead, let's look at last season, where he played all 82 games.
The numbers last year: 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game. That's almost right in line with this year, despite the games played differential. The list for these numbers is even shorter, with only eight players other than Russ accomplishing the feat - Oscar did it 10 times and no one else did it more than twice.
If I add in his 1.8 steals per game last year, there are three players in the history of the NBA who have matched his stats - Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Gary Payton. Each of those guys did it once in their career.
Changing the Narrative
Westbrook's biggest problem is that he plays with Kevin Durant. He would be a perennial MVP candidate (yes, I said MVP) if he was not teammates with the current one. But after Durant's great acceptance speech in which he defended his much maligned friend, I don't see Westbrook getting traded or leaving Oklahoma City in any dream scenario his haters can dream up.
Bill Simmons of Grantland has long talked about Westbrook being the leader of the "10% Theory." Simmons claims that Westbrook is 90% great and 10% bad, as are most players, but Westbrook's 10% is so glaring for numerous reasons that we focus on it more. Therefore, we have to learn to accept the 10%, understanding that the 90% we're getting is in the top-five of 90%'s in the world.
While it's a valid point, I think now we're above that threshold for Westbrook. It's not even 10% bad now. The hate is becoming just silly at this point.
The scary thing is that Westbrook is only 25 years old. That's less than two years older than Damian Lillard and John Wall. Stephen Curry is a year older than him. Giving those players the benefit of the doubt for any shortcomings because they're still young, but vilifying Westbrook for the same things is incredibly hypocritical.
If the statistics above don't show you how special of a player Russell Westbrook is, then I'm not sure anything else will at this point. The numbers speak for themselves.