3 min read

#ThunderRank: No. 1 – Russell Westbrook

#ThunderRank: No. 1 – Russell Westbrook
#ThunderRank – A look at the top 17 players for the Thunder and how their seasons might shake outPlayer Summary
“They say it’s lonely at the top, but whatever you do/
you always gotta watch m#@&*f$%#@% around you/
Nobody’s invincible, no plan is foolproof/
We all must meet our moment of truth” Gang Starr “Moment of Truth”

After years of sharing the spotlight with Kevin Durant for top billing on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook now finds himself alone atop the mountain. Fans and media pundits, alike, have played “who’s the best on the team” for the past 5 years. That question no longer needs to be asked. The departure of Durant to the Golden State Warriors bestowed the full responsibility of the franchise upon Westbrook.

Once that first question is postulated, the subsequent discussion usually leads to following questions: How successful would Durant be without Westbrook? How successful would Westbrook be without Durant? The ultimate “Jordan never won any championships without Pippen” argument.

Outside of a half season sample for each scenarios, the sample size of solo ventures pales in comparison to the sample size of playing together. In addition, the variance between the two situations makes things hard to compare. When Westbrook missed time battling knee ailments in the 2013-14 season, Durant still had a suitable back-up to play with in Reggie Jackson. But when Durant missed time in the 2014-15 season, Westbrook had to guide a ship that had taken on water from the outset of the season, and had to deal with a ton of roster turnover.

The answer to those two questions will come this season. Durant went a situation he deemed better in Oakland, and will be playing with the current MVP and a team that has made it to the Finals the past two seasons. Westbrook, on the other hand, decided to put his trust in the franchise and extend his current deal to stay with the team and give them a modicum of normalcy. From here on out, their careers will be intertwined with how successful they are after their partnership. For both of them, this will be their moments of truth.

2015-16 Statistics

80 GP, 34.4 mins, 23.5 pts, 7.8 rebs, 10.4 asts, 2.0 stls, 45.4% FG, 29.6% 3pt FG, 81.2% FT

Best-Case Scenario

The best-case scenario for Westbrook and for the team would be an MVP-contending season, while also keeping his usage rate to 34% or below. During the 2014-15 season, Westbrook’s usage rate jumped up to 37.2%, as Durant missed much of the season with various foot ailments. Last season, with a completely healthy roster, Westbrook’s usage rate dropped to 31.3%. The happy median of 34% would show that Westbrook is still being aggressive, while not shouldering the entire load himself.

Worst-Case Scenario

Aside from injury, the worst case-scenario would be a season where Westbrook tries to do too much. In his Durant-less season, Westbrook was a basketball savant from the end of January to the beginning of March, posting triple-doubles seemingly on a nightly basis, while also battling for the scoring title. From the middle of March to the end of the season, the story was a little different. Westbrook, whose engine never appears to stop, played tired. He wasn’t able to get as high on his jumper, which affected his percentage. And his decision making at the end of games was likely affected by his fatigue. If Westbrook looks at this year in that manner, the Thunder could be in for a long, frustrating season.

Percentage he’ll be traded sometime this season:

2% – Teams don’t usually trade their superstars with time left on their deals, but the Durant fiasco would make even the most optimistic person become a pragmatist. If the Thunder stumble badly out the gate and the chemistry just isn’t working, maybe the Thunder bite on a Godfather deal for their star point guard.

Westbrook’s Season Preview

Westbrook is heading into this season full bore. While he’s always been a leader on the team, he is now THE leader. This team goes as he goes. And I think he’s ready for it. Everyone talks about Westbrook’s physical game, but it’s the maturation of his mental game that has taken his game to new levels. His understanding of how teams play him and how he can effectively get around their defenses has made him the player he’s become in the last two seasons.

He’s ready to bear the brunt of this responsibility; the brunt of this reality. It’s his team now. And he’s rearing to get started. MVP incoming. Get ready!