Remember 2017? When Russell Westbrook snookered everyone into thinking he was historically great by averaging a triple-double over the course of a season for the first time since Oscar Robertson did it 55 years before?
And remember when those of us in the media lost our minds and gave him the MVP award?
Well, he’s spent the past four years making us all look like idiots, and in 2021, he is once again averaging a triple-double—this will be the fourth time in his career he’s managed the feat if he keeps it up—and making the kind of people who still think counting stats are the end-all be-all of NBA greatness think that he’s one of the best players in the league.
But look behind the numbers and what you see is one of the worst players in the league, the single greatest example of “gunning for counting stats doesn’t make you good” in the long, illustrious history of stat-hounding NBA players.
Westbrook’s WS/48 this year is .036. This is beyond puzzling—Win Shares are supposed to be a function of counting stats! Indeed, one widely-understood flaw of the stat is that it tends to be over-represented on the leaderboard by big men just because they tend to get the bulk of stuff like rebounds in the box score.
Then again, big men tend to score efficiently from in close. Westbrook couldn’t do that these days if he tried.
Westbrook’s .471 eFG% is the second-worst figure in the entire league (ahead of only rookie disaster area Anthony Edwards in Minnesota and his .464) among the 59 players with at least 1500 minutes this year.
Cut the requirement for minutes down to 1,000, a larger sample of 175, and Westbrook ranks 10th up from the bottom.
His free throw shooting has dropped off a cliff—he’s hitting just 62.7 percent of his charity tosses—and that means things get even worse for Westbrook when you consider his .503 TS%.
That is once again second-worst in the 1,500-minute sample (again, ahead of Edwards and his .500), and in the 1,000-minute tier, that rises from 10th-worst to 9th-worst overall.
Westbrook is an all-time terrible 3-point shooter, and he’s no better this year, hitting just 30.9 percent of his 194 attempts from long range.
Since the adoption of the 3-point arc in 1979, nobody with 3,000 career attempts—all 100 players, with Stephen Curry at the top of the list at 43.3 percent—has shot the ball worse from long range than Westbrook. His 30.5 percent mark is worse than Jerry Stackhouse (30.9), worse than Allen Iverson (31.3), worse than everyone.
Drop the requirement down to 2,000 career attempts and there’s only one player—the infamous Charles Barkley and his 26.6 percent career mark—worse than Westbrook out of 215 players in NBA history to take that many shots, with Curry again leading the way (Steve Kerr, whose 45.4 percent career mark is accepted as the career record, took just 1,599 3-pointers in his tenure on the hardwood.)
Westbrook wasn’t an All-Star this year, the first time that has been the case since he was injured in 2014, so it looks like the “Westbrook is overrated” argument has taken sufficient root that fans aren’t voting him in and coaches are sensibly choosing other guys for the pool of players.
But a .036 WS/48, the worst figure since he put up .035 as a rookie in 2009? That’s just bizarre for a guy with such eye-popping counting stats, and probably a sign that the stat has thrown up its hands like “dude, even I have standards”.
A guy who is averaging a freaking triple-double has negative Offensive Win Shares. Only Westbrook’s defense—1.8 DWS, plus-0.1 defensive Box Plus-Minus, both statistically propped up by defensive rebounds but generally reflecting his still-solid stopping power on that side of the ball—keeps him from following Edwards into the advanced-stat Sarlacc pit.
Indeed, Westbrook’s VORP stands at 1.7, far from great but good enough for second-best on a wretched Wizards team (behind Bradley Beal and his 2.2 VORP) and generally in that tier where he’d be the third-best player on any team that isn’t a garbage fire. He’d even be the second-best player on a team with a winning record—the Knicks, who have nobody besides Julius Randle (2.9) with a VORP higher than 0.7.
But watching Westbrook is a piece of bizarre performance art, where a guy who had people slack-jawed watching him drag a terrible Thunder team to the playoffs in 2017, a guy who drew comparisons to Kobe Bryant in 2006 or LeBron James in 2007 for his ability to put a truly awful squad on his shoulders and single-handedly will them to a winning record…
…well, it’s 2021. We all know what Westbrook’s stat gunning is good for now. We saw Kevin Durant win a ring after he left Oklahoma City. We saw James Harden evolve into an MVP, denied a shot at a title (so far) more because his Houston Rockets had to live in the shadow of the Golden State Warriors, and even Harden may get his ring in Brooklyn.
We saw Paul George‘s reputation as a playoff choker aided and abetted by Westbrook before “Playoff P” ever got to Los Angeles. We saw Carmelo Anthony‘s career nearly end before Portland rescued him off the scrap heap, his reputation as a selfish guy who doesn’t help teams win perfectly complemented by Westbrook’s equal reputation.
And now, with the wheels having finally come off Westbrook’s offensive efficiency to the point where he is the second-worst player in the league in that metric—and the worst is a guy thrown to the (timber)wolves in Minnesota for a rookie-year fire baptism—we’re finally starting to see some of the advanced stats tell us what NBA Twitter already sussed out by 2019.
Russell Westbrook, for all his ability to utterly break statistical analysis with his triple-doubles, no longer measures up in any meaningful statistical way to the NBA’s elite.
We’ll be spending years after he retires sifting through the wreckage trying to figure out where math went wrong. Just wait until the Hall of Fame voters have to make sense of it toward the end of the decade.
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