Russell Westbrook's Playoff Workload Was Exhausting
In the aftermath of the crazy first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, a lot of people will look down upon Russell Westbrook and his performance down the stretch of games. They'll point to the fact that the MVP candidate shot 28.6% from the field and had a net rating of -26.0 in the fourth quarter.
Those are facts -- I can't deny them. But it's still wrong, people!
It's wrong for many reasons. For starters, Westbrook was fighting an uphill battle against a better team. The Rockets were the 3 seed and the Thunder were the 6 seed for a reason, remember?
As he attempted to upset the Rockets almost singlehandedly, Westbrook lacked any resemblance of adequate scoring help on his own squad. And it was for that reason that he was forced to average 37.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.8 assists just to keep the Thunder competitive on the losing side of a gentleman's sweep.
Yes, Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson and Jason Kidd as the only players ever to average a triple-double in the playoffs. But the numbers behind his workload say more about Westbrook's fourth quarter woes.
Wear and Tear
According NBA.com's stats and player tracking data, here's where Westbrook's numbers rank among qualified (at least 24 minutes per game) players in the playoffs.
|Minutes||Dist (Miles)||Avg Speed (MPH)||Off Dist (Miles)||Avg Speed Off (MPH)|
As you can see, Westbrook didn't play more than 40 minutes per game like LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Nonetheless, he's right up there in terms of distance traveled per game, offensive distance traveled per game and average offensive speed. He ranks in the top seven in all three categories while maintaining an average speed of 4.11 miles per hour.
Understandably so, Westbrook's offensive game was more of a priority for him while it certainly took more of a toll on him (his mileage on defense (1.17) ranks outside the top 10 players). But, until you dig further into his usage and all the extra energy required to orchestrate an entire offense the way he did, you still aren't able to fully understand his offensive workload.
Used and Abused
We all knew the type of usage rate Westbrook carried into the playoffs. His 40.8% rate led the entire league in the regular season. Did you also know that he led the NBA in touches per game (99.5) and front-court touches per game (84.1) while placing himself into a three-way tie, possessing the ball 8.9 minutes per game?
Well, he did.
And that type of ball-dominant play only increased with everything on the line in the postseason.
|Usage||Touches||Front-Court Touches||Avg Seconds per Touch||Time of Poss (Min)|
In his five postseason games, Westbrook led the NBA in four of these five categories. This time, though, the margins between he and the next players were much wider than in the regular season.
In 81 regular season games, Westbrook's usage was 4.4% superior to second-place DeMarcus Cousins' 36.4%. In the first-round series with the Rockets, that gap grew to 7.8% between he and James Harden, who is second among qualified players at 38.0%.
The same goes for touches, front-court touches and time of possession. From regular season to postseason, Westbrook increased his lead in total touches per game from just 0.3 to 16.8. His 117 touches per game are an increase of 17.5 touches and make him the only player with at least 101 touches per playoff matchup.
The disparity in front-court touches is nearly identical. While Westbrook held a lead of nearly five touches per game over John Wall during the course of the regular season, his advantage rocketed to 16.0 front-court touches per game in the playoffs. And he only averaged 1.7 more minutes per game than did Wall, the next-closest player.
As for time of possession, that three-way tie became a thing of the past. Russ possessed the ball for 11.3 minutes per game and led Harden by nearly a full minute when all was said and done Tuesday night.
Maybe it was his own doing entirely. Or maybe it was just a byproduct of poor roster construction. A combination of the two is even in the realm of possibilities.
Whatever you want to think, it doesn't matter. Westbrook gave the Thunder his all until the very last second ticked off the clock in Game 5.
Just trying to wrap my head around his massive workload is exhausting alone -- imagine doing it.