On Wednesday night, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook recorded his 41st triple-double of the season, tying guard Oscar Robertson’s all-time record. On the season, Westbrook averages 31.8 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 42.6 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from deep.
Even with Westbrook’s explosive athleticism, high basketball IQ and uncanny scoring ability, nobody thought this record would ever be touched. A single triple-double alone is a marvelous feat, but to average one for the entirety of a season was thought to be impossible within the complexity of the modern NBA.
However, with five games left in the Thunder’s season, Westbrook is in position to not only average a triple-double for the season, but to also distance himself further from Robertson’s single season triple-double record.
Westbrook’s stats are so impressive that despite the Thunder being in sixth place in the Western Conference, he’s one of two frontrunners for the MVP award. In the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook is not only the face of the Thunder, but is essentially the current face of the NBA.
Yet, a season of this caliber begs the question: How is this even possible? It is no secret that Westbrook is a perennial superstar, but to consistently put up such numbers requires some sort of explanation.
There are three major factors that help contribute to Westbrook’s success. The first is his usage rate. Usage rate is defined as the percentage of possessions a certain player uses, or in layman’s terms, how much of the offense is run through a certain player. For reference, guard Kobe Bryant set the NBA record for highest usage rate in the 2005-06 season with a rate of 38.74 percent. This season, Westbrook has a usage rate of 41.7 percent, meaning he’s been the focal point of the offense more than any player in NBA history has for his respective team.
The usage rate is not exactly a knock against Westbrook, as it proves how valuable he is to his team, but it does help explain why Westbrook can average 31.8 points per game while only shooting 42.6 percent from the floor. For reference, the other backcourt starter for the Thunder, guard André Roberson, has the lowest usage rate in the league right now, at a measly 10.1 percent. This statistic makes sense considering he is playing with Westbrook, but it also proves that Westbrook handles the majority of the offense while Roberson is used as more of a defensive stopper.
The second factor in explaining Westbrook’s stats is the team’s rebounding mentality. For a traditional point guard, rebounds are difficult to come by, as big players usually grab them. The Thunder have a unique strategy regarding rebounding, something that is on display when the opponent is at the foul line. On the miss, the Thunder’s big men focus entirely on boxing out, clearing the lane for Westbrook to rebound and push the offense. Designing a rebounding strategy for a point guard is risky, especially when it involves removing big men from rebounding. Nevertheless, the Thunder own the best rebounding percentage in the league, demonstrating that their unique strategy is working.
The final factor has the biggest impact on Westbrook’s triple-double ability, but is also where we begin to see Westbrook’s insatiable quest negatively impact his team. Westbrook is simply not a good defender, often leaving shooters open in hopes of getting a better position for the rebound.
To put this in perspective, Westbrook has contested the third least three-point attempts in the league, behind centers Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gobert. This means that centers like DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond have contested more three-point shots on the season than Westbrook.
For a guard, this statistic is embarrassing. Although it is not well-known, Westbrook can often be found leaving his man open or failing to chase his opponent around the court. This lack of closing out might have more pronounced repercussions in the playoffs if the Thunder go up against point guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Chris Paul.
No matter how he gets it done, Westbrook is currently having one of the best regular seasons ever. In what can only be described as “lightning in a bottle,” Westbrook always seems to have another gear and a never-ending motor.
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