Russell Westbrook
Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

The New and Improved 2020 Russell Westbrook

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Russell Westbrook has sparked many controversial debates amongst basketball fans. Some defended him after averaging a triple-double, while others called him a stat padder. That topic will forever be debatable, but I’m going to prove why it is no debate that Westbrook changed his game for the better during the 2019-2020 NBA season. 

 

Photo Credit: ABC13 Houston

After Westbrook got traded to the Houston Rockets before the 2019-2020 NBA season, many fans laughed at the team, saying that James Harden and Westbrook couldn’t possibly work together because they are both ball-dominant players that average a lot of turnovers. Their record as of the COVID-19 shutdown was 40-24, and Westbrook has changed for the better.

One of his biggest criticisms was his three-point shot. His percentage has always been low, as he has shot below 30 percent from three for seven seasons of his career. Even though he still shot an atrocious 25.4 percent from three this season, he has taken less of them. He has attempted 3.8 threes per game this season, which is the least amount of threes he’s tried for the past eight seasons. 

The switch has resulted in his overall field goal percentage improving to 47.4 percent and his points per game to 27.5.  His highest field goal percentage in a season before this was 45.7 percent, to show how much of an improvement this is. His 27.5 points per game average are the third-most in a season for his career.  The two seasons he averaged more points per game, he shot an overall field goal percentage of 42.6 and 42.5. Westbrooks’s career three-point percentage is a low 30.4 percent, so it is a no brainer that he should not be attempting them as much as he has in the past. This season has shown that taking fewer threes has improved his game. 

 

Westbrook’s 2-point field goal percentage is at 51.8 which is the highest of his career.

 

Some would argue that going for more two-pointers more will result in the same amount of points due to the obvious point of two-pointers being worth less than three. To prove this argument wrong, effective field goal percentage is a stat that takes note of three-pointers being worth more than two-pointers. Westbrook’s effective field goal percentage is 49.5, which is the highest it has been in his entire career. He has attempted 18.8 two-pointers per game, which is the most he has tried in his career.

That has resulted in his effective field goal percentage and his two-point rate being the highest they have ever been regardless of attempting 22.6 field goals a game, which is the second-most he’s tried in a season. This proves that Westbrook’s problem was not shooting the ball too much; it was shooting three’s too much. He has attempted less of them this season, and that has resulted in the most efficient season of his career. 

 

Now to address the elephant in the room, the rest of Westbrook’s statistics have either gone down or look the exact same.

 

Photo Credit: NBA

He averages 4.5 turnovers per game, which is the same amount he averaged last season and averages only seven assists per game. To justify the seven assists per game, he shoots more than he ever has in his career, which makes sense that his assists per game are lower as of late.

Last season, he averaged 10.7 assists per game while shooting 42.8 percent from the field. His shooting percentage is nearly 5 percent higher than that this season. Sacrificing almost four assists per game for that much efficiency is better for his game. This also happens because he passes the ball a lot less as well.

Last season, he had 60.1 passes made per game. The season before that, he had 62.3 passes made per game. This season, he was only at 44.5 passes made per game. It is impressive that he still averages seven assists while passing the ball nearly 20 times less per game than he did the previous years. The only part of his game that is not justifiable is the turnovers. He should not be having the same amount of turnovers per game when shooting more and passing the ball less. 

All of this might leave one wondering why the Rockets don’t have a better record. The answer may be a surprise to many; Harden is more at fault than Westbrook. Harden was shooting an overall field goal percentage of 43.5 percent this season, the worst he’s shot since his rookie year. His three-point percentage is at 35.2 percent, the second worse he’s recorded in a season.

His effective field goal percentage is at 53.3 percent. That number is not so terrible, but it is a decrease from the last two seasons in which the Rockets were seen as contenders. If the Rockets are to become contenders again, Harden would have to perform as well as he did when they were giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money. 

 

Another reason they might have had a bad record before the season was stopped is because of the coaching.

 

Photo Credit: ClutchPoints

Mike D’Antoni has been a compelling case for the NBA; his offense-heavy style has taken some teams far but has never to a championship. He is criticized for having the same system every year that never results in a ring, which may be the case here as well.

Another reason the Rockets are not as good as they should be is that they’re missing Chris Paul. Even though Westbrook has improved, Paul was a better defender and passer. Having defense with Harden’s scoring ability is what the Rockets needed to be contenders, which is what Paul provided for them. The Rockets allowed 108.7 points per game last season. This season, they were allowing 114.4 points per game. Replacing Paul with Westbrook plays a significant role in that. Turnovers also play a role in this; Paul only averaged 2.6 turnovers per game last season while Westbrook has averaged 4.5 this season. One thing the doubters were correct about is the issue that Westbrook and Harden are both turnover machines. 

 

Even though having Paul resulted in more wins, Westbrook has still improved by playing more efficiently. He is just in a system that does not benefit from his improvement or style that much. That being said, the Rockets’ record is not Westbrook’s fault. He has improved his game this season and deserves some praise for doing so. 

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-Kyle Randolph – Franchise Sports Media

@KyleRandolphFSM

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