The NBA Needed Russell Westbrook's Extension With the Thunder

Westbrook has decided to stay with Oklahoma City for at least two more seasons. What does the deal mean for the NBA?

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.

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.

What does it mean for the Thunder -- and for the NBA?

The Deal

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
Kevin Durant 19.7 0.363 14.5 0.270
Russell Westbrook 14.7 0.269 14.0 0.245
James Harden 13.2 0.201 13.3 0.204
Al Horford 8.4 0.155 9.4 0.172
DeMar DeRozan 8.2 0.140 9.9 0.169
Mike Conley 3.1 0.087 5.3 0.144

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.

New-Look Thunder

The bigger story here is that the Thunder lost Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Dion Waiters this offseason, a trio that played 7,230 minutes in 2015-16.

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
Kevin Durant 5.9 19.5 0.363 14.5 0.270
Serge Ibaka 0.4 1.2 0.023 5.5 0.105
Dion Waiters -1.8 -4.9 -0.109 2.1 0.046

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.

AdditionsnF EffnF nERDnERD per 48Win SharesWin Shares per 48
Ersan Ilyasova0.51.30.0331.10.117
Victor Oladipo0.0-0.1-0.0024.90.099

Ersan Ilyasova and Victor Oladipo are the two players with NBA minutes in 2015-16 who the Thunder added, and each were pretty much replacement-level NBA pieces by nERD and our efficiency rating.

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.