The NBA Needed Russell Westbrook's Extension With the Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, a firecracker on the court, isn't the type of player who needs extra motivation, but he was put in a bind when superstar teammate Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors in free agency this offseason.
Westbrook, reportedly angry and hurt by the way Durant handled the change of teams, became the topic of trade speculation, as the Thunder needed to figure out a way to move on in the post-Durant era.
Before the Thunder could trade him, Westbrook took matters into his own hands.
Sources on @TheVertical: Russell Westbrook, Thunder reach agreement on three-year, $85M-plus contract renegotiation. https://t.co/cScRJ9ItDX
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) August 4, 2016
In an unexpected move given the crumpling state of the Thunder's roster and the allure of greener pastures on other teams, Westbrook put an end to the drastic personnel turnover in Oklahoma City and dashed the hopes of potential trade partners looking to haul in the All-Star point guard.
Stop refreshing the page Lol
it's true 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/WxyZUHImWN
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) August 4, 2016
What does it mean for the Thunder -- and for the NBA?
Westbrook's three-year deal for $85 million leaves him with a player option to become a free agent in the summer of 2018. Westbrook will make $26,540,100 in 2016-17, the top rate in the league, tying Durant and former teammate James Harden as well as Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Al Horford, all of whom secured new deals this offseason.
To offer some context into the six big-money players, here are how they fared in 2015-16 in terms of nERD, which indicates how many wins above .500 a wholly average team would be with that player as a starter, and win shares.
|2015-16 Metrics||nERD||nERD per 48||Win Shares||Win Shares per 48|
Durant was ahead of the pack, and Westbrook was a step down, but it's hard to argue that Westbrook's contract wasn't the right move for the Thunder from an analytics standpoint.
But that's not a surprise.
Mainly because of Durant, that was a prolific trio to lose according to our efficiency rating -- which indicates expected point differential between a player and an average one -- nERD, and win shares.
|Losses||nF Eff||nF nERD||nERD per 48||Win Shares||Win Shares per 48|
Sure, per nERD, Waiters was addition by subtraction, as he would have lost a team nearly five games over an 82-game season as a starter, but that's still a 15.8-game loss by nERD and a 22.1-game loss by win shares.
If we throw in Westbrook -- without factoring in what the return haul would be -- that'd be a 31.2-game swing by nERD and 36.1 by win shares.
And the additions they brought in don't even come close to mitigating such jarring losses, something we already know, but it's worth examining to see the tangible impact.
|Additions||nF Eff||nF nERD||nERD per 48||Win Shares||Win Shares per 48|
Oladipo's win shares mark was bolstered by 2.7 defensive win shares, but he maintained a 48.9% effective field goal percentage. His lack of efficiency kept his nERD down below zero.
The Thunder also brought in Domantas Sabonis and 56th overall pick Daniel Hamilton, but if they had lost Westbrook, the NBA would have seen its third-best team by nERD in 2015-16 and a perennial title contender become a squad clamoring for position in the NBA Draft Lottery almost overnight.
And the Association can't afford that.
Not Another Super Team
Something that's not quite as easily quantifiable (sadly) is that Westbrook's decision to stay in Oklahoma City denies the NBA from securing another superstar-heavy team, such as the one the Warriors have assembled.
Even if the Thunder grade out as an absolutely average team across the board, Westbrook can help them stay 10 games or more above .500, based on his 2015-16 nERD score. In a league that is already led by a select few teams each season, any team that is competitive helps close the cavern between the league's best and the league's worst.
And with Durant's Warriors the favorite over the field to win the NBA title, according to Pinnacle Sports, Westbrook's extension gives us all something to watch during the dog days of the NBA season.