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Oklahoma City Thunder

Is Russell Westbrook shooting the Thunder out of the playoffs?

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Come playoff time, we generally have the approach that if you’re not hot-taking every game, you’re not doing things right. And asking whether presumptive MVP Russell Westbrook is shooting his Oklahoma City Thunder out of the playoffs certainly may sound like a hot-takey question. But bear with me for a while as I explain why it’s not.

First, let’s establish one thing: Westbrook is the best scorer on the team and should be the player who takes the most shots. I, in no way, intend this to be a criticism of his role as a shoot-first point guard. Rather, it’s a question of whether he can be a shoot-first point guard without being a shoot-way-too-much point guard.

So, let’s first lay down a foundation of what “too much” means. Let’s begin with how much he is actually shooting the ball in the playoffs thus far by just looking at field goal attempts. His average of 33.0 is the most ever. Period. Here are the players who have shot the most:

Most FGA Per Game In Playoff History
Crit Crit Tota Per Shoo Shoo Shoo Shoo Shoo
Rk Player Season Age Tm Lg FGA TS% G PTS FG% 2P% 3P% eFG% FT%
1 Russell Westbrook 2016-17 28 OKC NBA 33.0 .471 2 36.5 .348 .409 .227 .386 .846
2 Elgin Baylor 1961-62 27 LAL NBA 32.7 .503 13 38.6 .438 .438 .438 .774
3 Rick Barry 1966-67 22 SFW NBA 32.6 .467 15 34.7 .403 .403 .403 .809
4 Wilt Chamberlain 1960-61 24 PHW NBA 32.0 .492 3 37.0 .469 .469 .469 .553
5 Jerry West 1964-65 26 LAL NBA 31.9 .534 11 40.6 .442 .442 .442 .890
6 Michael Jordan 1985-86 22 CHI NBA 31.7 .584 3 43.7 .505 .500 1.000 .511 .872
7 John Williamson 1978-79 27 NJN NBA 31.0 .427 2 29.5 .371 .371 .371 .813
8 Bob McAdoo 1974-75 23 BUF NBA 30.9 .528 7 37.4 .481 .481 .481 .740
9 Tracy McGrady 2000-01 21 ORL NBA 30.8 .483 4 33.8 .415 .434 .200 .423 .816
10 Elgin Baylor 1960-61 26 LAL NBA 30.2 .538 12 38.1 .470 .470 .470 .824
11 Allen Iverson 2000-01 25 PHI NBA 30.0 .480 22 32.9 .389 .403 .338 .425 .774
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/20/2017.

 

Note, also, that Westbrook’s 47.1 true shooting percentage is the lowest of anyone with 30 attempts in the 3-point era. In fact, it’s the lowest of anyone with at least 25 attempts. And that’s just field goal attempts. Of the players who have averaged 25 field goal attempts per game, Westbrook is also tied for third-most free throw attempts per game. So Westbrook is also averaging more true shooting attempts (.44 * FTA + FGA):

Furthermore, Westbrook is turning the ball over 6.5 times per game, which is the third-most of any player in postseason history (though, we’ve only tracked turnovers since 1977-78).

In sum, Westbrook is using more possessions than anyone has in the history of the game, and not with very efficient results. How bad is it? Here’s a look at every player who has scored 50 points in this season’s playoffs and how many possessions they’ve used to get their points, per SynergySportsTech.com:

Putting two extremes into perspective, Kawhi Leonard has used 44 fewer possessions to score three fewer points!!! If that doesn’t perk up your ears, you’re not listening right.

And, in particular, the problem rears its head in the fourth quarter, as evidenced by Russ’s splits by frame:

Through the first three quarters, the Thunder are a plus-2.5 with Westbrook on the court. In the last quarter, they are minus-9.5 with him on the court.

And it’s not like his advanced stat splits are any better. Note the Player Impact Estimate (the percentage of positive plays made on the court, adjusted by negative plays):

When you’re using 57 percent of your team’s possessions and they literally have zero positive impact, you’re going to end up with a minus-51.8 net rating.

And not to beat a dead horse, but this is his shot chart from the fourth quarter:

This is not to sound all hot-takey, but could it be that Russ is trying a smidge too much in the fourth quarter and costing his team points in the process? Let’s look at some of his shots and see if he had any teammates with open shots.

How about on this shot that was blocked by Clint Capela in Game 1?:

 

Can you see any open shooters as Westbrook tries to force the ball over the Rockets’ most prolific shot blocker?:

 

You can argue that Norris Cole was trash from 3 this year, but he is 32.4 percent from deep for his career, which is a more efficient shot than trying to get the ball to go through Capela’s hand. And Jerami Grant — the dude camped out in the corner for the entire play getting ignored — was 40.9 percent from that spot and 43.2 percent overall on corner 3s this year. He was also 39.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. So that’s definitely a better option than having Capela feed you your own shot for dinner.

How about this one?:

 

No. 25 there that’s wide open? His name is Doug McDermott. His true shooting percentage is 100 for the playoffs. To be fair, that’s on only seven shots. Also to be fair, he might have more than seven shots if Westbrook wasn’t taking 57 percent of them in the fourth quarter. He also shoots 39.4 percent from deep for his career. He’s only 36.2 percent this year, but that’s still a lot better than a pull-up mid-range jumper.

Still not convinced? How about Russ looking off both an open McDermott who is practically begging for the ball and Grant for a corner 3 in the same possession. And he just takes a bad, contested, pull-up mid-range shot:

 

Not to overstate it, but that’s just dumb basketball right there. Not only did he not look at his teammates, but the Rockets didn’t either! That means they knew he wasn’t going to look at them. When teams start game planning for you to be a fourth-quarter ball hog, you’re going to be bacon.

A few more examples of this:

You’d have a hard time convincing me that Westbrook wasting possession after possession doesn’t have something to do with the Rockets coming back in Game 2.

Sure, Westbrook had a 51-point triple-double, but he used 50.92 true shooting attempts to get those 51 points, and that’s the most of any player as far back as Basketball-Reference’s Play Index goes:

Add in the four turnovers, and that’s a 92.3 offensive rating on plays Westbrook used. That’s horrible. There is no way to win games like that.

Westbrook says he “don’t give a f***” about his stat lines. Honestly, I believe he means that. But if he wants to have a chance in this series, he’s going to have to have more trust in his teammates, especially in the fourth quarter.

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