Russell Westbrook is the definitive love/hate player of the 2021-2022 season. Some folks loath the way he plays, while others swear by his intensity on the court.
Russell Westbrook’s game is tough to get a handle on, so much so, many NBA players don’t know what to think. Last week, Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns criticized the Lakers’ new starting point guard before praising him.
“He definitely gets stats; he chases stats,” said Towns during an online interview with Adin Ross before later saying, “I don’t care what anyone says, do you know how hard it is to get a triple-double?” Towns then switched gears again, saying, “I just think that sometimes he plays too quick. He tries to do too much.”
What is the truth behind Russell Westbrook’s inaugural season with the Lakers?
Is he a stat-stuffer who puts his individual success above the team?
Or are the former Bruin’s surreal numbers a boon for the Purple and Gold?
Next, we’ll examine Russell Westbrook’s offensive game and how he plays on defense before deciding if he brings real value to the court.
Russell Westbrook’s Offense
Russell Westbrook Pushes The Pace
The Lakers rank first in the NBA in pace this season at 100.8 possessions per 48 minutes versus last year when they finished 16th out of 30 squads. There is no question that Russell Westbrook has been the driving force behind the Purple and Gold’s evolution from a plodding team to the fastest organization in the league.
But does the way Russell Westbrook pushes the pace actually help the Lakers?
The Los Angeles Lakers are second in the league in transition opportunities with 21.5 per game, but they only manage 1.09 points per possession, landing the Purple and Gold in the 48th percentile. Genuine Lakers fans already know the reason their hometown squad lands in the bottom half of the league in transition buckets; because they turn the ball over too much in the open court. The Purple and Gold are seventh in transition turnover frequency, coughing up the rock 13.1% of the time.
Russell Westbrook often pushes the ball up the floor too fast and recklessly, looking to attack the basket even when the opposing squad is back. He repeatedly goes at hyper-speed, a true tunnel-vision player, lacking the floor sense to know when to pull it back and set up the Lakers half-court offense. Too often, he pushes things to the edge and makes unforced errors, and NBA fans know what happens when one player coughs up the ball in transition; it almost always leads to an easy basket the other way.
Russell Westbrook Racks Up Assists
The best part of Russell Westbrook’s game is probably his passing ability. He averages 8.3 assists per game, good for sixth in the league, which is impressive. Factor in the fact that he plays alongside LeBron James, who is 20th in the association with 6.6 dimes per contest, making Westbrook and LBJ the only duo in the top-20, and you can see the LA native is finding his teammates with pinpoint passes even though he shares the rock with James.
The Purple and Gold as a whole attempt an excellent 17.4 wide open (no defender within 6 feet) three-point shots per game. Russell Westbrook creates much of that shooting space.
Westbrook, 33, still has an explosive first step. This season he’s blowing by his defenders with regularity, consistently collapsing opposing defenses, and creating room for his teammates from beyond the arc. The former Bruin is an unselfish player, and he knows how to hit the Lakers’ perimeter shooters square in the chest for a shot from deep in rhythm.
Because of Russell Westbrook’s excellent drive and kick game, the Lakers feature seven regular rotation players—T. Ariza, A. Bradley, C. Anthony, A. Reaves, W. Ellington, L. James, and M. Monk—shooting better than league average from beyond the arc.
Westbrook is seventh in the league in assist points created at 20.9 points per game. The Lakers have cycled through more perimeter players in the league this year due to injury and coronavirus protocols, making Westbrook’s passing all the better because he hasn’t been offered an opportunity to find a nice tempo with the roster.
Russell Westbrook’s Shooting Numbers Are Bad
Russell Westbrook has struggled from distance this season. He comes in at 104th out of 118 qualified guards who’ve attempted 3.5 three-point shots per game, with a disastrous 30.2% average. If you’re an NBA fan, you already know he can’t shoot from beyond the arc.
What you probably didn’t know is he’s been equally bad close to the rim. Westbrook is connecting on less than 60% of his 5.8 shot attempts at the rack.
Compare Russell Westbrook’s shooting numbers from 0 to 3 feet versus the other Western Conference top playmakers:
- Russell Westbrook: 59.9% from 0 to 3 feet
- Stephen Curry: 58.6% from 0 to 3 feet
- Chris Paul: 73.3% from 0 to 3 feet
- Donovan Mitchell: 71.7% from 0 to 3 feet
- Ja Morant: 68.4% from 0 to 3 feet
- Luka Doncic: 76.9% from 0 to 3 feet
Now compare him to the average Western Conference starting point guards.
- Monte Morris (the Denver Nuggets starting PG): 77.5% from 0 to 3 feet
- Dejounte Murray: 71.4% from 0 to 3 feet
- D’Angelo Russell: 61.5% from 0 to 3 feet
- De’Aaron Fox: 69.85 from 0 to 3 feet
The only playmaker he shoots better than at the rim is Stephen Curry, the best three-point shooter of all time. All the other setup men hit at a much higher clip than the Lakers point guard.
There are no statistics to show how many open rim shots a player misses. Still, it seems like Westbrook not only has problems finishing among the trees in the lane, but he also comes up short on at least two gimmies per game. When a player misses a wide-open look at the rim, it is a heartbreaker for the entire squad, especially in a close contest.
Russell Westbrook Is A Turnover Machine
Russell Westbrook averages 4.8 turnovers per game, second in the league.
James Harden, Luka Doncic, Paul George, and Trae Young join Westbrook in the top-5 in turnovers per contest, a who’s who list of excellent offensive weapons.
There is a considerable difference between Westbrook’s turnovers and the other players in the top-5. Athletes like Harden, Doncic, George, and Young are the focal points of their team’s offense. They draw consistent double teams, and they are under relentless pressure. Their gravity drives their squad’s success. They are constantly forced to make quick decisions, which occasionally leads to a sloppy pass or a charge.
Westbrook is not at the center of the Lakers’ offense. Every opposing squad game plans for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The former Bruin routinely makes unforced errors. Watch a Lakers game and you’ll see him dribble the ball off his foot, pass the rock to nobody, and lately, he’s begun to jump before he swings the ball, sometimes realizing he doesn’t know where his teammates are on the floor.
The numbers show that Harden, Doncic, George, and Young are incredibly beneficial to their team’s success despite their turnovers, while Westbrook does more bad than good on offense.
Here’s a breakdown:
- James Harden’s Estimated Plus/Minus: +4.2, 95th percentile
- Luka Doncic’s EPM: +2.8, 92nd percentile
- Paul George’s EPM: +2.6, 90th percentile
- Trae Young’s EPM: +4.3, 95th percentile
- Russell Westbrook’s EPM: -0.7, 57th percentile
Westbrook often goes at warp speed on the court, doing before thinking. He doesn’t need to go full throttle for the Lakers to find success. He’d be better off playing in control and minimizing his pointless mistakes.
Russell Westbrook’s Defense
Russell Westbrook Doesn’t Contest Many Shots
The NBA’s official website defines a defensive field goal attempt as “the number of opponent’s shots attempted when a player is defending the shot.”
A contested shot is defined as “the number of times a defensive player closes out and raises a hand to contest a shot prior to its release.”
Russell Westbrook averages 11.7 defensive field goal attempts per game, but only contests 3.6 shots per contest.
Think about that, Russell Westbrook defends nearly 12 shots per game but only gets his hand up and genuinely challenges a little over three attempts per contest.
Those numbers are damning.
Really focus on Russell Westbrook as he plays D, and two things will stick out:
He rarely gets a hand up towards the ball as a shooter launches (Lakers fans are nodding). Instead, he tends to stand flat-footed and lazily put his hand toward his assignment’s chin.
He seldom closes out hard on an open three-point shooter (Lakers fans are still nodding with a tear in their eyes). Westbrook closes out, but not with a purpose. He usually meanders toward the three-point line because he has to, like a 10-year-old who slops a sponge across his dad’s car, getting enough soap on there so his old man doesn’t yell at him, but nothing more.
Overall, Russell Westbrook allows his assignments to shoot 46.7%, one of the worst marks among the Lakers’ regular rotation players, and the Purple and Gold are 1.9 points worse per 100 possessions on defense with their starting point guard on the floor.
Russell Westbrook’s Rebound Numbers Are Inflated
Russell Westbrook averages 8.1 rebounds per game, fourth among all backcourt players in the NBA. His numbers are bloated.
Most head coaches don’t emphasize offensive rebounding in today’s modern NBA. In fact, nearly every squad preaches a “get back on D” approach, which means players don’t flash to the rim for put-back attempts or offensive rebounds because that can leave them vulnerable to a transition attack if they don’t manage to lock down the board. Nowadays, most players rush back on D after a shot attempt, preparing to lock down their rim.
Russell Westbrook uses this “get back on D” strategy to tack onto his rebound numbers. Go to a Lakers game, and you’ll see him fighting his teammates ferociously like a grizzly bear straining to secure a jumping salmon for the chance to pull down an unchallenged defensive rebound. If there are Lakers players around the free board, chances are Westbrook is going to nab it.
A few teams in the NBA buck the current trend and still battle for offensive boards. The Minnesota Timberwolves are one such team.
Westbrook has not done well in the rebounding department against the Timberwolves.
Have a look:
Jan. 2nd vs. the Timberwolves: Westbrook had 3 rebounds
Dec. 17th @ the Timberwolves: Westbrook had 4 rebounds
Nov. 12th vs. the Timberwolves: Westbrook had 5 rebounds
Russell Westbrook averages 1.6 offensive rebounds per game, and there is value in that, but there are 36 other guards in the association averaging at least one offensive board per game. Westbrook’s a solid rebounding guard, but he’s not as elite as a quick glance at the numbers would have you believe. Take away the uncontested freebies he snatches nightly, and he’s probably more in line with Lonzo Ball (5.4 RPG), which is fair, but nothing to write home to your mom about.
Russell Westbrook’s Overall Defensive Numbers Aren’t Good
Dunks and Threes rates Russell Westbrook in the 29th percentile on D.
Westbrook’s defensive box plus/minus is at -0.6, meaning he’s more than half a point worse than a league average player on the less fun end.
He clocks in at 295th out of a possible 558 players in defensive rating.
The stats jump off the screen and shout, “subpar defender.”
Westbrook is an elite athlete, and at 6-3, 200 pounds, has the size to be a lockdown specialist. He goes about as hard as possible on offense, dashing into the lane every chance he gets and pushing the pace for the Lakers on the break. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go past fourth gear on the less glamorous side of the ball.
Does Russell Westbrook Bring Real Value To The Court?
It seems like the Lakers often win games despite Russell Westbrook instead of because of him.
The Lakers’ last game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves is a perfect example.
The Lakers won 108-103 despite Westbrook turning the ball over nine times as he went 0 for 5 from deep. He contested only three shots on defense while the rest of the team got a hand up on 40 attempts, and he pulled down three rebounds. Overall, the Lakers were outscored by 2 points with their point guard on the court, and he had the third-worst net rating on the team.
How many teams can win when their point guard throws the ball away nine times, shoots 0.0% from deep, and only contests three shots?
Russell Westbrook is a top-notch passer, and his drives down the lane put pressure on opposing defenses. Still, his attributes don’t make up for his lack of defensive effort and unforced offense errors.
Russell Westbrook hasn’t brought consistent value to the Lakers through the first half of the season. All he has to do is slow down, stop making silly mistakes, and give more energy on the less fun side of the ball, and he’ll help the Purple and Gold inch toward championship contender status.