by Fox Doucette
Russell Westbrook got himself some friends to play ball with this year. A team that featured Westbrook and nobody the goddamn hell else managed to win 47 games despite being the worst three-point shooting team (a cover-your-eyes 32.7 percent), completely incapable of getting an assist that Westbrook didn’t dish out (they were 25th in the league overall, and don’t blame the counting stat on pace; they were ninth-fastest in the Association), and exceptionally turnover-prone (19th in turnover percentage.)
On the bright side, they were fantastic at offensive rebounds (grabbing a league-high 27.9 percent of that cavalcade of bricks and turning them into revived possessions.) They were a top-ten defense (tenth in fact.) Oh, and their best player averaged a freakin’ triple-double and won the MVP for his trouble.
Westbrook shattered the record for Usage Rate (41.7), led the league in PER (30.6), topped the Association in offensive and total Box Plus/Minus and Value Over Replacement Player (which, if you’re more into WAR as a basketball stat, means he added 33.5 wins, turning a team that was a 14-win team without him, a team that, had he been lost for the season on opening night, might’ve been worse than the Nets, into a six seed in the playoffs.) The guy is on a freakin’ G-League team and did that.
One wonders how he managed 10.4 assists a game with teammates who couldn’t shoot. Westbrook, never a great shooter himself, actually raised the team’s shooting percentage; he shot 34.6 percent from long range in 2017.
Did we mention that this team freakin’ got Paul Goddamn George from the Pacers? Hold on to your butts, folks…
2016-17 record: 47-35
2018 over/under: 51.5.
Paul George, in Indiana, was the guy who carried a crummy team between the slow demise of Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert and the glorious rise of Myles Turner. Had he stayed in Indy, that was a team for the future. Twice an All-NBA selection, four times an All-Star, an eight-win guy who pushed the Pacers into the playoffs despite the presence of Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey, and now he doesn’t have to shoulder the burden of taking a ton of contested shots like it’s 2002 because he had nobody to pass the ball to?
Give George a chance to spot up and move without the ball, then let Westbrook find him for the assist, and PG13 becomes everything Victor Oladipo wasn’t.
I’m not even angry as a Pacers fan. Watching PG13 get the job done in OKC will be a pleasure on League Pass.
Steven Adams, Third Banana
If Steven Adams is your best player, you’re a 14-win team. If he’s your second-best player (and your best player is Russell Westbrook), you’re a 47-win team. If he’s your third-best player, and the guys in front of him are Westbrook and George?
I’m not saying 52 wins seems a bit light. I’m also not not saying it.
Adams is a genuine beast in the restricted area (65.5 percent shooting) who can’t shoot outside of it. If he gets into a pack-the-paint game and sticks to what he does best now that the Thunder have perimeter help, he might genuinely break through and be more than a seven-rebound guy. Plus, it’s hard to argue with the plus-7.1 net rating split he threw up there last year on the stat sheet.
Can we just prevent Andre Roberson (24.5 percent) from ever shooting another three-pointer? Or Enes Kanter (13.2) or Kyle Singler (18.9), for that matter? Whatever they’re doing, it’s not working. Again, Westbrook took what seemed like all the shots, put up a 34.6, and the rest of the clowns around him knocked that down two full points to the worst in the league.
This is still a G-League team. It’s just more top-heavy than it was before.
Oh, heaven help them if anyone gets injured.
Otherwise, this is a 47-win team that added a 3-VORP guy, so that stands to make them at least a 50-win team.
And last I checked, 50 wins is good. Confirmed.