Watching Russell Westbrook play basketball this season is, in a word, confusing. Is he the worst star in the NBA or the most captivating stat monger?
Since the All-Star break, Westbrook is averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 12 assists per game, an overnight harvest that would have put his name on the tip of every NBA fan’s tongue five years ago. Today it barely induces a yawn.
Additionally, since the All-Star break, he has made 35.1% of his 3s, shooting five per game. His appearance is not the same as what Bojan Bogdanović, Seth Curry or Tyler Herro see, but at this very small sample size, their numbers are comparable.
Last year with the Rockets he did not play in consecutive games. This season, Westbrook has gone the majority, including a 35-point, 13-assist, 15-rebound deck thrown at the Jazz, one night after he logged 39 minutes in a two-point loss to the Kings (a game that featured two missed dunks, one so violent the ball nearly flew to the middle of the court).
That battle against Utah was a tireless, astonishing out-of-body experience. Vintage Westbrook. He stopped for the transition of three and received every ray of daylight as an invitation to humiliate Rudy Gobert. When the league’s best defense previously turned to show him multiple bodies, Westbrook fed Alex Len and Rui Hachimura until they looked like stars. During the fourth quarter, Wizards announcer Drew Gooden summed up Westbrook’s umpteenth dagger by assuring viewers that “there is no defense for a jump shot.” Moments later, she rocked the baby on Donovan Mitchell. For one night, the Jazz were helpless.
Performances like that are magical. They are also few and far between, on a team that probably won’t even make it to the entry tournament. Even Westbrook’s most cinematic box scores are overshadowed by the way they are formed, with hyper-intense competition that has become his worst enemy, marred by raunchy shot selection and reckless determination. Of the 165 players who have played at least 1,000 minutes this season, Westbrook is 155 total RAPTOR. It is also ranked 37th among shipowners in real plus-minus, with more turnovers than any other player.
When Westbrook shares the floor with Bradley Beal, the Wizards score 110.7 points per 100 possessions (or roughly the 19th best offense in the league). When Beal is alone, that number goes up to 113.1 points per 100 possessions (just outside the top 10). When Westbrook plays without Beal, the team’s offensive rating is … 98.6. This “makes the Cavs look like the Lakers“ bad. And to -221 he ranks 504 out of 514 players in plus-minus.
Westbrook’s game was once infused with an enviable degree of bravery. He set out for the basket with more confidence than a knife in combat with giant sticks of butter. But now there are stretches where you can’t take advantage of first gear that renders you helpless when you want to, while second and third gears that could really help your aging body have yet to be recognized. Westbrook isolates more people who are not named James Harden without being very good at it, forcing awkward floats and runners that used to be dull.
Only 29% of his shots hit the rim right now, up from a whopping 49% last season. Those looks have shifted to the mid-range, where Westbrook is one of 10 players. who have attempted at least 250 jump shots. However, it only made 40.4% of them, which is the last of the bunch and doesn’t come close to justifying such a high volume.
The 32-year-old languishes in a high-usage role that draws attention to his deteriorating influence and the behemoth of a contract. But next season perhaps a solution can be found. After Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond received acquisitions to chase a championship, the idea of Westbrook sharing a similar fate is simultaneously depressing, absurd, and perfect.
The NBA landscape can and will change next season, but the possibilities and questions that would arise from a divorce between Westbrook and the Wizards should remain fascinating. Would you return millions of dollars to optimize your role, play fewer minutes, and possibly get out of the bench? (Westbrook must pay $ 44 million next season and has a player option of $ 47 million the following year, which is considerably more than what Griffin had left in his own maximum contract.)
After hearing Westbrook’s comments made in response to recent criticism from Stephen A. Smith About the nine-time All-Star’s inability to win big, he may not be interested in that kind of sacrifice, which is understandable. “I don’t have to be an NBA champion. I know that many people who won NBA championships that are miserable, they have done nothing for their community, they have done nothing for the people of our world. “
For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say Westbrook wakes up one morning in 2022 and decides that Really wants to reach the final. Just as important, then, is another question: Will a contender want it? The answer can be found by imagining the current version of Westbrook in, say, the Clippers, surrounded by three-point shooters, constantly attacking the paint, speeding up one of the league’s slowest offenses, and adding a level of dynamism that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard did not sparks. In other words, no team wants to pay Westbrook $ 90 million, but most should be delighted with him in their bullpen for the minimum number of veterans.
Imagine it in the Celtics or the Heat or the Bucks, as a scaled down and tighter version of what it is now. For virtually no cost, all of those squads (and several others) would love to toss the embers of the Westbrook Hall of Fame into their own bonfire, knowing the risk is low but the payoff can be an adrenaline rush like no other. These theoretical relationships could one day, of course, end in disaster. They might even be sad. But there’s also the possibility that Westbrook will come back to prominence as a sharper, more efficient, and pressure-free version of himself.
His broken outside shot will be useless in the deciding moment of a Game 6; there are obvious fit issues that restrict what you will eventually be asked to do, should we get to such an exciting day. But positive qualities undoubtedly live on at Westbrook. He’s a voracious rebounder in traffic and defenses continue to fear the typical result of his downhill runs.
With the days of Westbrook raising the floor of a team without help, it’s worth thinking of a world where you accept a purchase and find a way to raise the roof of a very good team. It’s a far more satisfying reality than the one currently in existence, where one of the sport’s all-time individualists is wasting the fall of his career chasing triple-doubles that are almost forgotten two minutes after they have been achieved. Westbrook belongs in the playoffs, warts and all.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.