This Is the Best Version of Triple-Double Russell Westbrook

    In 2016-17, Russell Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double over the entire season. That statistical output

    December 24, 2018

    In 2016-17, Russell Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double over the entire season. That statistical output vaulted him to his first league MVP award and kept the Thunder in the postseason despite losing Kevin Durant the previous summer. Many expected Westbrook’s triple-double average to drop with the arrival of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but Oklahoma City’s superstar guard kept his pace in 2017-18.

    Through Dec. 24, Westbrook is once again averaging a triple-double. If he keeps this up, he’ll have three of the four seasons in league history where a player averaged a triple-double.

    So why isn’t Westbrook in the MVP conversation this year?

    For starters, his scoring output has dropped in each of the last three seasons as his teammates have improved. Westbrook averaged 31.6 points per game during his MVP campaign surrounded by role players. In the last two seasons, he’s played alongside All-Star forward Paul George and budding star Steven Adams. The idea that Westbrook had to do everything was gone. His triple-double averages have given the former MVP the moniker of a stat stuffer.

    George’s ascension in Year 2 with the Thunder has also dampened Westbrook’s efforts. The forward is averaging 26.2 points per game on incredible efficiency. Oklahoma City had to run its entire offense around Westbrook in 2016-17. The Thunder no longer have to do that. Oklahoma City is experiencing a bigger tradeoff in production when George is off the floor than Westbrook this year, according to basketball-reference.com. That doesn’t happen to MVP candidates.

    Westbrook isn’t generating the same impact across the board as he did last season. In 2017-18, he generated 46 percent of the team’s points off assists. This season, that number is down to 33 percent. Westbrook’s overall usage rate has declined from a career-high 41.7 percent in 2016-17 to 30.3 percent this season, according to basketball-reference.com

    So has Westbrook become a stat stuffer?

    The current iteration of Westbrook is actually the best outcome Oklahoma City could’ve hoped for. His lower usage rate has allowed him to conserve energy on the offensive end while still creating the same statistical impact. This has led to Westbrook’s best defensive season ever and it has the Thunder primed for their best run since the 2012 trip to the Finals.

    Because he gives tremendous effort, Westbrook was never a bad defender based on advanced metrics. He would occasionally gamble for steals, leading to either tremendous transition dunks or a defensive breakdown. Those gambles usually paid off; Westbrook was ranked fourth in steals last season. This year, he’s racking up steals at a career-high rate while also posting a 97 defensive rating, by far his best ever. The Thunder are better defensively this year with Westbrook on the floor than last year.

    His offensive game has evolved to better serve the team. Westbrook has the Thunder holding a 119 offensive rating when he’s on the floor and his chemistry with George and Adams has taken a leap forward. Last year, the three-man lineup of Westbrook-George-Adams was outscoring opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. This year, that number is up to 12.0 points. Oklahoma City has tied more than $100 million dollars to this group for the next three seasons. They should be dominating opponents like they are this year. Before the season, I wrote how this group needed to perform at a high level to give the Thunder a shot at Golden State. Westbrook, George and Adams are doing damage this year.

    Westbrook’s offensive approach has also changed slightly. According to NBA.com/stats, he’s taking less shots early in Oklahoma City’s offensive possessions. Westbrook is also taking more shots on less dribbles than he did last season, allowing the offense to flow better. These subtle adjustments haven’t hurt Westbrook’s numbers, but they’ve allowed Oklahoma City to become a more cohesive unit as opposed to an isolation offense. The Thunder are +13 overall per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the floor, the best mark of his career.

    It’s not just advanced numbers. Westbrook’s triple-double pace this season has helped Oklahoma City join the short list of contenders. In Westbrook’s MVP campaign, the Thunder were the sixth seed in the West. This season, Oklahoma City sits near the top of the Western conference and trounced Golden State at Oracle Arena. Westbrook’s step back has allowed the Thunder to collectively take a step forward.

    He’s not an MVP candidate, but this is the best version of “triple-double Russ”. And it has the Thunder ready to finally take down their nemesis in the Bay.

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