Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Since Kevin Durant announced he was leaving Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, people have been talking about three things: How good the Warriors are going to be, the way Durant left without even calling Westbrook and the way Russ is going to go absolutely, otherworldly, positively ham all over the NBA this season.
And as many have noted, the last time Westbrook got extended time sans Durantula, he did go nuts, racking up regular “Oscars” (a 30-point triple-double).
Wanting a larger sample size, I looked at NBAWowy.com to see what Westbrook did when he was on the court without Durant since 2014-15, and there were some stunning numbers, which I’ll cover more in the next session. But the one that is most eye-opening is usage percentage: 41.2. For perspective, the NBA record is currently Kobe Bryant’s 38.7 in 2005-06, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
So what can Westbrook do sans Durant? If history is any indication — a lot. If you prorate the numbers accrued over 2,416 minutes to per-36 minute stats, he’s looking at 31.6 points, 9.7 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals. Or, if you really want your eyeballs to pop out of your head, if he played the 46 minutes per game that Oscar Robertson did in his triple-double season, he’d average 40.0 points, 12.2 assists and 10.1 rebounds.
In that span, the Thunder have had 4,933 possessions with Russ on and KDoff, with 2,908 of those plays ending in a Russ shot, turnover or assist. And that doesn’t include potential assists where the pass was made, but the shot was missed. If his teammates shot about 50 percent on Westbrook’s potential assists, that adds another 649 plays.
That’s a total of 3,557 plays out of 4,933 possessions he used — almost three-quarters of them.
So when we say going ham, we’re not talking about ordinary ham here. We’re talking prime Iberian ham. And if he puts up the kind of monstrous numbers some expect, he could be the next MVP.
The downside of Westbrook’s Tasmanian Devil impersonation is that he’s not very efficient. Over those same minutes, he shot just 43.5 percent from the field, had a 54.3 true shooting percentage and turned the ball over 11.3 percent of the time (4.9 per 36 minutes without Durant).
There are other things that could limit his production more. There are a lack of shooters in the starting lineup, and that could limit his assists.
With Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, both notable rebounders playing bigger minutes, and potentially more together, there will be fewer available misses to snare.
If Westbrook’s numbers aren’t ridiculous, and he’s inefficient, guys like James Harden and Chris Paul would climb over him.
Westbrook’s offense is all about ferocity, which is a beautiful thing to watch if you like watching unabated violence wrecked on the rim.
Westbrook’s athleticism, speed and strength make him unique in the NBA. He drives with a fury that is unparalleled. He has both the ability to score and kick out to his shooters. According to NBA.com, he drove 10.1 times per game with a 70.7 points percentage and 11.0 assist percentage. The next-most drives per game that had 70/10 splits was Draymond Green.
That is the cornerstone of Westbrook’s offense. He’s not a very efficient pull-up shooter (42.3 effective field goal percentage), and with less shooting in the lineup now, it could be harder for Westbrook to find those driving lanes.
Westbrook plays what I call “chihuahua defense.” He runs around a lot, makes a lot of noise and does a lot of things, but not all of it is purposeful or results in anything.
For example, you’ll often see him over-commit on a closeout and go flying into the first row of seats, where he’s absolutely useless until he gets back up and gets back into the play.
You see the same thing when he’s gambling for steals trying to shoot the passing lane and hurling himself well past the three-point line while his man heads towards the paint. Westbrook needs to channel his energy better on that end.
He guarded the pick-and-roll ball handler on 44.2 percent of his defensive possessions and held them to 0.79 points per possession, which was good for the 59th percentile. So he’s not a ”bad” defender so much as a sometimes overzealous one.
And perhaps at other times, an unenthusiastic one when he bears more offensive burden. As ESPN Insider notes:
Alas, Westbrook’s defensive effort figures to slip with the increased offensive load. He already has anasty habit of taking plays off while also compromising the team’s defense with his tendency to gamble for steals.
His Defensive Real Plus-Minus last year was +0.60, which was ninth among point guards. But it could be a lot better.