When is a great game not a great game?
Russell Westbrook puts up fantastic counting stats; after averaging a triple-double in 2017, he’s got 18 triple-doubles this year and sits just 25 rebounds short of averaging another one for the season.
Trouble is, he’s also shooting the Thunder out of games, and especially lately, his downright atrocious shooting has either caused a loss or led to something like the game against Sacramento last week in which Westbrook hit only four shots on 15 tries, his insistent bricklaying leading to Oklahoma City winning by just three points.
Since January 28, he’s hit even half of his shots just twice, once in a loss to the Lakers, the other time when smoking former teammate Kevin Durant‘s Golden State Warriors.
This means that in 12 games he’s played over the last month and change, he’s hit less than half his shots 10 times. In four of them, he shot under 30 percent.
Westbrook even had a game so putrid that he managed to miss a triple-double not because he couldn’t grab a bunch of rebounds or throw a bunch of good passes to set up teammates but because he went just 3-of-12 from the field and ended up with just eight points; the game was a seven-point Thunder win at Orlando, a team that is tanking and doing a great job of it.
The Thunder rely on excellent offensive rebounding, especially from Steven Adams, and they have a ballhawking defensive style that has them leading the league in steals.
And while rebounding and defense can win you a lot of games, ask the Utah Jazz what happens when your shooting is so atrocious that you simply can’t score enough points yourself because your shots aren’t falling.
It seems odd to say this in the midst of a stretch where the Thunder have won six of the last nine, but five of those wins (the Warriors were the sixth) were Memphis (twice), Sacramento, Orlando, and Dallas.
When the team won eight straight in January, five of the wins were against non-playoff teams.
Westbrook sets the pace for this team’s offense, and he’s simply lost his touch; he can’t shoot a lick these days.
And making matters worse, he’s emerging as one of the least efficient scoring point guards in basketball thanks to his hideous three-point shooting.
According to Basketball Reference, among players with at least 100 attempts beyond the arc this season, Westbrook is the fifth-worst at 28.5 percent. (and it’s worth pointing out that Pascal Siakam should never, ever be allowed to shoot a three-pointer, as he’s hit just 18.7 percent of his 107 attempts.)
Westbrook has attempted 267 threes through games of March 1, and the next-worst three-point shooter with that many attempts? Dennis Smith, at 30.6 percent and 268 tries.
It’s not even that he’s effective at the rim to make up for that dreadful long ball shooting. Among players to attempt at least 400 shots this year, Westbrook’s .468 eFG% is 14th-worst. (Celtics fans, take note: Marcus Smart is the worst shooter in the entire league taking that many attempts.)
It gets worse than that for Westbrook. He leads the league in field goal attempts. He’s taken 1,289 shots.
Second in attempts? LeBron James, at 1,154…and his eFG% stands at a robust .590.
Any way you cut it, however, Westbrook is a plug-awful shooter who thinks he’s an efficient scorer.
Paul George, one of two Thunder players in the 15-man 1,000-shot club so far this season, has a True Shooting of .586 and an eFG% of .538; his 42.1 percent shooting from three is nearly as good as Westbrook’s shooting on all shots from any distance (43.8 percent.)
Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, has taken 936 shots and is as bad or worse than Westbrook (eFG% .477, TS% .505).
But Westbrook singlehandedly took a G-League team to the playoffs last year while putting up the best counting stat season since Oscar Robertson‘s prime.
For him to regress to the worst version of himself shooting the basketball, it all but assures that the Thunder are dead meat when the Warriors go into Playoff Mode and play for keeps in April…or when James Harden is doing to Westbrook exactly what he did to him last year when the Thunder were sixth and the Rockets third.
Russell Westbrook is not Oklahoma City’s only problem (Carmelo looking washed up is right up there), but his horrifying inefficiency is going to be the reason the Thunder get bounced in the first round if they even make the playoffs at all. Don’t count out the possibility of a hard regression now that a cupcake portion of their schedule is coming to an end.