Thunder fans have had the misfortune of being well-versed in Russell Westbrook slander over the past decade. From Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, even Kevin Durant’s burner accounts, for years we’ve dismissed the inconceivable notion that Westbrook’s style of play is in any way detrimental to the team’s overall success. Russ will forever be bulletproof to a vast majority of Thunder faithful and understandably so. After all, he is the one who stayed when the franchise was on the verge of extinction following Durant’s July Fourth departure in 2016.
Personally, Westbrook is my Favorite Professional Athlete of All-Time. I’m a born and raised Minnesotan, growing up with Randy Moss 50-yard bombs and Kevin Garnett alley-oops in my backyard, but it’s the California Cool Kid with the funky outfits in the Bible Belt who stole my sports fandom heart. Other than his countless God-given skills on the basketball court, Westbrook’s constant ability to stay true to himself, despite the outside noise, has always resonated with me. That sort of stuff is admirable, especially when you consider how other athletes with thin skin have been on full display over the past few years.
With that being said, it’s time to openly discuss Westbrook’s play this season.
The Thunder have been playing great basketball this season, save for the 0-4 start and rough stretch earlier this month. Even with the recent struggles, the Thunder remain a top-three seed in the Western Conference. Paul George’s emergence as a legitimate MVP candidate has covered a lot of holes to date, but could you imagine how good this team would be with Westbrook playing at his usual level?
Westbrook’s struggles with his shot have been well documented, averaging his worst field goal percentage (41.6 percent) since his rookie season. Westbrook’s three-point percentage (24.2 percent) is also the worst since his second season in the league — though he’s taking nearly three more per game than he did then. Herein lies the biggest problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder, in my opinion.
Westbrook is attempting nearly five three-pointers per game this season, converting on a pitiful 24.2 percent. To make matters worse, it’s when he decides to let it rip from long-range that has been problematic for the Thunder, and not just this season. In an early-season matchup against the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, Westbrook shot 12 three-pointers and only made a single attempt. Denver defeated the Thunder by seven points — that’s a three-possession ball game.
More recently, let’s go back to OKC’s roller coaster victory in Philadelphia last Saturday afternoon. With the Thunder up four points and 1:17 remaining, Westbrook missed his fifth attempt from three. The 76ers came down and answered with a three, cutting the Thunder lead to one with under a minute remaining. On OKC’s very next possession, Westbrook took yet another egregious three-point attempt with 50 seconds remaining that predictably misfired. Luckily, George saved the day and the Thunder snuck out of Philadelphia with a much-needed victory. It should go without saying, but there is no reason whatsoever as to why Westbrook should be attempting five three-pointers per game when he’s shooting 24.2 percent from beyond the arc.
The Thunder have historically won at a higher clip when Westbrook wastes fewer possessions by attempting three-pointers. Let’s take a deeper dive into these specific numbers:
As of January 22, 2019
- OKC is 5-9 when Russ attempts 6 or more 3PAs = .357 winning percentage
- OKC is 9-11 when Russ attempts 5 or more 3PAs = .450 winning percentage
- OKC is 15-4 when Russ attempts 4 or less 3PAs = .789 winning percentage
- OKC is 10-3 when Russ attempts 3 or less 3PAs = .769 winning percentage
- OKC is 5-14 when Russ attempts 6 or more 3PAs = .263 winning percentage
- OKC is 11-19 when Russ attempts 5 or more 3PAs = .367 winning percentage
- OKC is 36-14 when Russ attempts 4 or less 3PAs = .720 winning percentage
- OKC is 30-8 when Russ attempts 3 or less 3PAs = .789 winning percentage
Both Seasons Combined
- OKC is 10-23 when Russ attempts 6 or more 3PAs = .303 winning percentage
- OKC is 20-30 when Russ attempts 5 or more 3PAs = .400 winning percentage
- OKC is 51-18 when Russ attempts 4 or less 3PAs = .739 winning percentage
- OKC is 40-11 when Russ attempts 3 or less 3PAs = .784 winning percentage
As Yo Gotti conveyed in his 2009 record “Women Lie, Men Lie”, the numbers above simply do not lie. The Thunder win more when Westbrook shoots fewer threes.
We know by now the Thunder aren’t a good three-point shooting team, and that’s putting it kindly. Why compound the issue by allowing Westbrook to shoot as many times as he does from long distance? Will the Thunder see Westbrook’s attempts from three dwindle in order to prioritize the greater goal of winning basketball games? Or will Westbrook’s supreme confidence force him to keep firing away from beyond the arc during the stretch run of the 2018-19 season?
“Why Not”, right?