Russell Westbrook Runs Everything for the Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook has seen his fair share of criticism throughout his young career. For the past few seasons, the biggest criticism about his game was that he didn't pass enough. He needed to get Kevin Durant the ball more on offense, shoot less, and be more of a “true point guard”.
His response to these criticisms? Averaging 10.4 assists per game last season, which was not only a career high, but also second in the NBA behind Rajon Rondo.
Now with Durant out of the picture and him being the lone top dog in the Oklahoma City Thunder offense, he's taken his game to a phenomenal level.
Through 50 games, his 30.7 points per game is best in the league, while his 10.3 assists are good for third best. Let's not forget about the 10.4 rebounds he's pulling down each night, which means the triple-double machine is actually averaging a triple-double for the entire season.
If he keeps this up, he'd be the first player to accomplish this since Oscar Robinson did it during the 1961-62 season.
Robertson registered 41 triple-doubles during that noteworthy season. With 24 already under his belt this year, Westbrook needs 17 more in his final 32 games to tie him for the most ever in a single season.
Oscar vs. Russ
Since Westbrook's incredible run of production this season brings about this storyline with Robertson, let's take a look at how their seasons look when compared side-by-side.
|Statistic||Russell Westbrook||Oscar Robertson|
|Points Per Game||30.7||30.8|
|Rebounds Per Game||10.4||12.5|
|Assists Per Game||10.3||11.4|
|Effective Field Goal Percentage||46.4%||47.8%|
|True Shooting Percentage||54.1%||55.4%|
|Player Efficiency Rating||29.1||26.0|
|Offensive Win Shares||4.1||13.4|
|Minutes Per Game||34.6||44.3|
Robertson was a bit more efficient and also had a bit more breathing room with regard to staying in double figures for points, rebounds and assists. Even with how dominant Westbrook has been, his rebounds and assists per-game averages are barely helping him qualify for a triple-double.
However, it's important to note here that Robertson did play in over 44 minutes per game -- nearly 10 minutes more per night than his fellow triple-double machine. When we compare their per-36 averages in points, rebounds and assists per game, Westbrook does gain the upper hand.
|Per-36 Minutes||Russell Westbrook||Oscar Robertson|
|Points Per Game||31.9||25.0|
|Rebounds Per Game||10.9||10.1|
|Assists Per Game||10.7||9.2|
That shouldn't take away what Robertson accomplished, though. His efficiency while taking into account how much he was on the floor every night is remarkable.
Doing the Most With the Least
It's amazing to watch Westbrook do this because he's playing with far less talent around him than ever before. OKC boasts just three players with a nERD (player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on their efficiency) above 0, which is league average. This small list includes Enes Kanter (4.9), Steven Adams (2.9), and Victor Oladipo (0.1).
To put this in perspective, the Houston Rockets have 9 players (excluding James Harden) with a nERD above 0, while the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs (excluding Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard) have 10 players each above that number.
And what's possibly most impressive is that Westbrook's performance is almost single-handedly keeping the Thunder competitive -- they're currently 28-22, giving them a firm hold of the 7 seed in the Western Conference. There's incentive for the point guard to keep it up, too. Oklahoma City has a .750 winning percentage when he finishes with a triple-double, as opposed to .420 when he doesn't.
Is there anybody in the league doing more with less in the league than Westbrook?
Can This Continue?
When it comes to keeping his per-game averages above the threshold for points and assists, Westbrook needs to rack up the opportunities. With a career-high usage rate (41.9%) that's five percentage points higher than the next closest player, he'll have the ball in his hands plenty with a chance to score and help his teammates score.
But after never pulling down more than 7.8 rebounds per game until this season, the bigger question is whether or not he can keep averaging 10 boards per night. A way to make that happen is collecting uncontested rebounds. Westbrook currently leads the league in this category, getting 8.5 per night. Are his teammates trying to let this happen?
Steven Adams shared his thoughts on the matter earlier this year by saying, "No one cares. We'd rather it be him [getting the rebound]. I like it because I can actually box out my dude. It's good that he actually gets to come in and take it. I don't mind it."
Oklahoma City currently ranks 3rd in fast-break points per game and 2nd in fast-break efficiency, so Westbrook grabbing these uncontested rebounds could be seen as beneficial for the team and not just helping him stuff his own stat sheet.
The immediate outlook for this streak to continue, as the Thunder currently riding a three-game losing streak following the loss of Enes Kanter to a fractured forearm. Westbrook's assists could take a hit without the big man on the floor, but with the insane usage rate he's been producing, there will be plenty of chances to make up for it throughout the game.
Keeping up his triple-double average is certainly a tall order, but if there's ever a situation where the chances of it continuing is possible, it's this one in Oklahoma City.