Are We Still Underestimating Russell Westbrook?
When healthy, Russell Westbrook might have been the best player in the NBA in 2014-15.
Many would argue against that in favor of guys like James Harden, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and MVP Stephen Curry. Maybe they're right; maybe they're wrong. We all have our own criteria and opinions.
However, I can't concede that any other player was more exciting to watch last season.
Yeah, he threw down ferocious dunks, but his triple-double run was historic. Westbrook became the third player since 1987 to tally four consecutive triple-doubles. He did so in the midst of six triple-doubles in eight games, a streak that made up a large part of his 11 total triple-doubles in 2015.
Only Jason Kidd and Grant Hill accumulated more triple-doubles in a season in the past 20 seasons.
Westbrook led the Association with 28.1 points per game and averaged 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per contest. Those kind of numbers put Westbrook in Hal of Fame company as Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron are the only three players ever to average those numbers in a season.
Please keep in mind that Westbrook did this without his Thunder buddy, Kevin Durant, who played in just 27 games.
It's true that KD's absence produced high volume for Westbrook, but things didn't change as much as you might think. Sure, Westbrook's Usage Rate went up from 34.4% in 2013-14 to 38.4% in 2014-15, which led the NBA. (Dwyane Wade's 34.7% was second.) But in 2013-14, Durant's 33.0% led the league, and Westbrook's 34.4% would have been tops had he qualified for the leaderboard.
Westbrook has been a high-usage player, so to think that he only put up such good numbers because of Durant's absence is a bit unfair.
Further evidencing that is the fact that Westbrook's efficiency didn't suffer despite putting up 22 shots a night. The only inefficient part to his game was his 29.9% from beyond the arc, which led to an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 45.5% -- his lowest since 2010-11.
That inefficiency didn't stymie his total contribution metrics, though. See for yourself. Here are Westbrook's advanced numbers with NBA ranks in parentheses.
|10.6 (6)||29.1 (2)||10.6 (7)||.222 (5)|
Last year, everyone was talking about Anthony Davis and his eleventh-best Player Efficiency Rating (30.9) of all time. But Westbrook's also shows up on the all-time list at number 33. And when we sort by seasons in which a player has achieved a PER of at least 29 by the age of 26, Westbrook's season is just the 15th of its kind.
As a matter of fact, Westbrook boasted the highest Usage Rate of any of those players in such a season, some of the most efficient campaigns in league history.
And again, these numbers were basically accomplished without Durant.
To see what KD's return could do for Westbrook, take a look at this table, which shows how Westbrook's play changed while running with various teammates, according to Basketball-Reference.
|Westbrook On-Court Splits||Minutes||FG%||eFG%||PTS/100 Poss||AST/100 Poss|
Take a look at how the Westbrook/Durant combo affected Westbrook's play on the floor in 2014-15. It easily exceeded each of the averages and was the only one to add double digits in points on a per-100-possession basis.
So while many basketball brains think Durant will benefit more from a new and improved Westbrook, the numbers say Westbrook should benefit more from a fresh and healthy Durant.
Equals MVP Underdog
According to 888sport's MVP odds, Kevin Durant is significantly more favored to win the MVP in 2015-16 than Westbrook is. As of now, KD is 5/1 -- second to only King James -- while Westbrook sits at 11/1, the sixth-highest odds.
This is in no way an actual betting recommendation, but I would, without a doubt, bet on Westbrook at 11/1 rather than Durant at 5/1.
If you look back at the season he had a year ago, how couldn't you? And after winning the MVP award in the 2015 All-Star Game, why wouldn't Westbrook go hard for the next individual achievement on the list?
To me, he's never been more equipped to do so. He's healthy, he'll have a healthy Durant at his side, and he's taken his game to the next level.
Russell Westbrook is ready to beat the odds this year.