Russell Westbrook is a divisive player to many fans. Some view him as one of the best players in the league: the triple-doubles, the athleticism, and the flashy dunks all create a good perception of him. Others see him as an inefficient ball-hog and say that his game doesn't work in the modern 3 and D era. Russell Westbrook is clearly talented: you don't win the 2016-17 MVP award without being immensely gifted at the game of basketball. But there are some questions about the way he chooses to play.
Russell Westbrook can generate a lot of offense for you with his playmaking and driving: that gives the team a solid floor, and most Westbrook teams are okay regular-season teams. Ever since Kevin Durant left, Russell Westbrook hasn't made it back to the Finals, despite playing with a variety of elite superstars. Now, as he plays on his third team in as many years, it is fair to ask: is Russell Westbrook overrated for his superstar status? The Washington Wizards currently have a 2-7 record, despite Bradley Beal's hot stretch. The Wizards gave up John Wall and a pick for Westbrook hoping to be in the competition for the playoffs, but so far, that hasn't been the case.
Russell Westbrook Has High Usage And Low Efficiency
Russell Westbrook had a usage rate of 41.7% during his MVP season and hasn't dipped below 30.0% until the current 2020-21 season with the Wizards, where his usage rate is 29.4%, barely below the 30.0% mark. A high usage percentage implies that Russell Westbrook uses a lot of his team's possessions while he's on the floor. We can see from the eye test that Russell Westbrook is a ball-dominant player: the numbers just back it up. While a lot of his possessions go well when he's on the floor as he is an elite passer, he also gets a lot of turnovers: Westbrook has not averaged less than 4.5 turnovers in a game since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City. Turnovers are a natural part of the game for a guard: but a lot of turnovers can hurt momentum and create easy baskets for the opposing team.
Westbrook has put up eye-popping scoring numbers before and has led the league in scoring twice. But recently, if you look at his numbers, then you can see that Westbrook has been an inefficient shooter. That is not to say that he's a bad scorer. But Russell Westbrook isn't a good jump shooter: he shoots a paltry 30.5% from 3PT range for his career, and his bad 3PT shooting generally brings his overall efficiency down, as he still takes a healthy amount of attempts from beyond the arc (4.7 attempts per game during 2020-21). His scoring is also the lowest it has been since his sophomore season: only 19.3 PPG.
Westbrook is shooting an inefficient 37.8% from the field and 30.3% from 3PT range with the Washington Wizards; those aren't quite superstar numbers. But Russell Westbrook could be lethal if a system was optimized for him. Last year Westbrook had some of the best spacing of his career and focused on getting to the rim, leading to one of the most efficient years of his career. Westbrook is a good enough shooter to keep defenses honest, but if he limited himself to shooting a few jumpers a game, then he could space the floor, but still play to his strengths. High usage and below-average efficiency aren't a good combo for a superstar like Westbrook, who teams expect to carry them down the stretch.
Russell Westbrook Hasn't Had Recent Postseason Success
Chris Paul has led the Oklahoma City Thunder further in the playoffs than Russell Westbrook did without Kevin Durant. As sad as that statement is for Westbrook loyalists in Oklahoma City, it is true. Westbrook teams have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 6 games or less from 2016-17 to 2018-2019 when he was the lead star in Oklahoma City. Chris Paul got eliminated in the first round in 2019-20 but took the Rockets to 7 games. While that is more of a fun statistic, it shows Westbrook's inability to get out of the first round until he teamed up with another superstar in James Harden. Even then, the Rockets were eliminated in 5 games by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Russell Westbrook has had stars like Paul George and James Harden on his team. Those are all capable players. There just hasn't been a similar amount of postseason success as there was in the regular season. However, there are also other factors aside from stars when it comes to roster construction. Oftentimes, the Thunder didn't have knockdown shooters who could hit from beyond the ark, preferring lengthy athletic defenders for the roster instead. Westbrook is one of the people who need a team of shooters around him to succeed, similar to a player like Giannis Antetokounmpo. We must also remember that Russell Westbrook had made it to the Finals before: it's not like he hasn't tasted success in the past.
Is Russell Westbrook Overrated?
The answer to this question is: Westbrook is overrated as of right now, but he could still turn it around. He is a former MVP, so people expect him to play like that during this regular season. But he doesn't have to focus on scoring as much on the Wizards. Westbrook is a stat sheet machine: he doesn't have to average 25.0 PPG if he can average 13.0 APG. With Westbrook's talent, he could adjust his game to run the offense instead of trying to do everything all at once.
Russell Westbrook is getting older; the nuclear athleticism is still there, but there are some slight signs of waning. Westbrook can lessen the wear and tear on his body while still finding a way to benefit the offense with his skill set. Westbrook is one of the best playmakers in the league: if he lets Bradley Beal focus on the scoring, he can just work on driving inside and kicking it to shooters like Davis Bertans. The Wizards could still be good, and Westbrook could easily bounce back to be a superstar, just in a different way.