The Russell Revenge Tour is underway and it’s everything we’d hoped it would be. Only been six games in and Westbrook is putting up historical numbers.
The All-Star guard is averaging a near triple-double of 33.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists to become the first player ever to have 100 points, 30 rebounds and 30 assists through the first three games of a season.
The Thunder’s win over Phoenix last Saturday also saw Westbrook become the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to post a 50-point triple-double – history in the making right before our own eyes!
This is the player most fans wanted to see as soon as Kevin Durant packed up and left for Golden State. The Westbrook with a permanent snarl on his face, crashing boards and sprinting on fast breaks with reckless abandon. The Westbrook that some even consider an MVP contender.
But herein lies the problem. If the franchise player is to win the MVP, the Thunder need to win. For the Thunder to win, they can’t rely on Westbrook to have 30-point triple-doubles every night – sooner or later their luck will run out.
Oklahoma City are 5-1 to lead the Western Conference on the back of Westbrook’s performances. The only blemish on the Thunder’s record is the road loss to the Warriors last week, while their wins have been mostly against weaker teams in the 76ers, Suns, Lakers and Timberwolves with their greatest margin arriving via the Clippers after Westbrook hit a go-ahead bucket with 18.7 seconds left to win the game for the Thunder.
The off-season saw OKC lose the core of their starting line-up in Durant and Serge Ibaka, leaving Westbrook to carry the offensive load on his own. While they did add shooting guard Victor Oladipo in a trade with Orlando for Ibaka, along with some other pieces, this void cannot fill the hole left by the departing duo.
Westbrook’s 33.2 points per game is more than double that of his nearest teammate – Oladipo, who is averaging 15.5 points on 39.5% shooting. Right now, the Thunder don’t have much other choice than to rely on their star man to carry the load offensively.
Most of their non-Westbrook scoring comes from Oladipo and the Stache Brothers, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, averaging 11 and 10.5 points each respectively, while rookie Domantas Sabonis has looked promising in his so far limited minutes with the rest of the roster averaging less than 6 points.
Westbrook also has the second highest usage percentage in the league at 42.4%. Only 18 times have qualifying players finished a season with a usage percentage of higher than 35%, among those players are names like Iverson, Bryant and Jordan, some of the heaviest ball users in recent memory.
The 27-year old made that list in the 2014-15 season, the season that saw Durant only play 27 games. Now with Durant out of the picture, it’s likely that Westbrook makes that list again.
With little 3-point shooting to spread the floor and defences collapsing in on their bigs, a Westbrook isolation often becomes the Thunder’s best option. While that can be enough to get them through some of the weaker teams in the league, it won’t be long before that starts to hurt OKC.
According to basketball-reference.com, Westbrook is leading the NBA in field goal attempts taking 19 more shots than Portland’s Damian Lillard as well as field goals missed – 17 more than Kyrie Irving. So, while Oklahoma’s main man will try to take over games night after night, it’s not always going to go their way and when the shots aren’t falling, it might even do more damage than good.
The massive amounts of shooting and ball use by Westbrook has also resulted in him leading the league in turnovers and tied for first in turnovers per game with Washington’s John Wall.
All the pressure being placed on his shoulders to carry the Thunder will take a toll on the point guard eventually. He’s already slowed down a touch from the first 3 games of the season but it would’ve been impossible to maintain that pace for 82 fixtures. Even his current pace is not sustainable for another 76 games.
If the playoffs are a genuine goal for the Oklahoma franchise, Westbrook must last the season, that much is for sure. The last thing they need is for him to be pushed too hard for too long and end up missing games.
While the Russell Revenge Tour is going to be a hell of a ride – if the Thunder want to compete this season then either the rest of the team needs to step up and help Westbrook or they need to look at bringing in some help because try as he might, but can’t do it on his own.