The Rise of Russell Westbrook

by 9. February 2011 13:49

After establishing himself as a legitimate star in his sophomore season, Russell Westbrook has exploded in his third year in the NBA, earning his first All-Star bid while posting some extremely impressive numbers all across the board. The clear cut second best player on one of the best teams in the Western Conference, Westbrook is already placing himself in the conversation with the best point guards in the league despite being just 22 years old.

Breaking down his numbers, Westbrook has improved in nearly every area this season, and ranks among the top players in the league in a few critical categories. The most noteworthy statistic for Westbrook this year is his Usage Rate, which measures the percentage of team possessions a players uses in his time on the floor. After posting a solid rate of 25.70 last year, Westbrook has skyrocketed to 31.12 this season, the eighth highest rate in the entire league. While this sounds impressive in and of itself, it helps to take a step back and look at the seven guys ahead of him: Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Amare Stoudemire, and Kevin Durant.

The interesting thing about Westbrook's drastic spike in possessions this season is that his scoring efficiency has actually gone up as much as his usage has, a strange occurrence in basketball. Typically, as one's usage increases, one's efficiency will decline, as at a certain point a player needs to start taking more difficult shots in order to add to his possessions. Seeing efficiency and usage both increase dramatically simultaneously is extremely rare, and it's remarkable Westbrook has managed to do it at this level.

Westbrook has managed to bump his True Shooting Percentage from 49.1% to 53.7% this season, compared to the league average of 54.2%. On first glance, this would appear to be a striking blow against Westbrook, but there are other factors to consider. For one, Westbrook is one of the most ball dominant players in the league, creating his own shot more than almost any player in the NBA. Westbrook is assisted on just 17.3% of his field goal makes. The only other player in the league averaging 20+ minutes per game who is assisted less? Steve Nash.

Beyond that, one must consider the effect Westbrook has on his teammates, as with him creating so much offense and accounting for many of the difficult shots the team has to take, it improves the efficiency of others. To illustrate this with some other examples, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony both have comparable TS%'s to Westbrook, while he isn't far behind Kobe Bryant either.

Looking at where Westbrook is getting his shots on the floor, there is more reason why Westbrook's TS% has yet to reach elite levels: he doesn't have consistent three-point range (only 1.2 of his 17.3 FGA per game come from behind the arc, and he’s hitting at just 28.8%). For guards who can't stroke the long ball, it's very rare for players to eclipse league average scoring efficiency, especially when forced to create at the rate Westbrook does. With the spot-up three-pointer being one of the most efficient shots in basketball, not having it in your arsenal makes it very tough to reach elite scoring efficiency, as hitting a 23-foot jumper will give you 50% greater returns than hitting a 22-footer, something that can quickly add up.

On the positive side, Westbrook does get high efficiency shots in other ways, namely with his ability to fearlessly attack the rim both in the halfcourt and in transition. Averaging 6.8 FGA at the rim per game (5th most in the league) and 8.2 FTA per game (8th most in the league), Westbrook is already among the league's best at getting to the basket. Scoring on a strong 57.9% FG% at the rim and a scorching 84.8% on free throws, Westbrook is very efficient in this area, and it's worth noting his at-rim percentage his risen 5 percentage points in each of his seasons in the league, making you wonder where the 22-year-old's ceiling even is.

Looking beyond scoring to the rest of his game, Westbrook is dishing out 8.6 assists per game, 8th best in the NBA, and his Turnover Rate (turnovers per possession used) of 15.58 is below the league average of 16.03 and has declined steadily each of his three seasons in the league. Westbrook's 8.4 Rebound Rate is also best among every point guard in the league, partly by design in the Thunder's system, but no doubt due to Westbrook's rangy athletic abilities and excellent pursuit skills as well.

Given his remarkable learning curve (seeing where he is now compared to a freshman at UCLA five seasons ago, you would barely even recognize him), amazing work ethic, and superb free-throw shooting, the likelihood of him developing into a reliable three-point shooter is higher than would be for most third year players. And if he can do that, people may not end the discussion at Westbrook just being in the conversation of the best point guards in the league, as he's already among the league's best point guards in virtually every other facet of the game.

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2/10/2011 9:24:09 AM #


His FTA/FGA ratio has increased from ~1/3 to ~1/2. That's certainly a good way to increase efficiency.

EvanZ United States

2/20/2011 2:07:01 PM #

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2/20/2011 2:37:47 PM #

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2/20/2011 5:06:53 PM #

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2/21/2011 2:44:53 AM #

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