The Bucking Broncho: One Season Made Westbrook Iconic
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) controls the ball against Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Entering the 2016-2017 season, a lot of uncertain thoughts surrounded the Oklahoma City Thunder organization due to the loss of their superstar, Kevin Durant. Many NBA experts predicted the Thunder finishing as the eighth or ninth team in the NBA’s Western Conference, with a playoff appearance being a legitimate concern.
Russell Westbrook announced that he’d return to the Thunder for at least two more seasons, which mended many hearts of the OKC faithful. Still, no one saw a historic season on the horizon.
In previous years, the triple-double was a coveted and unusual accomplishment. This was something you didn’t hear about every night. This season, however, Westbrook has normalized it by tallying 42 triple-doubles in one season alone.
Over the past 55 years, there have been a few players that may have been capable of this, but still didn’t accomplish it. Lebron James, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain or Jason Kidd would’ve been the expected over-takers of Oscar Robertson’s record, but the 28-year-old, 6-foot-3 point guard out of Long Beach, CA turned out to be the one to do it.
The MVP isn’t in question anymore. He’s winning that.
Comparing Russell and Oscar
Westbrook’s productivity this season alone has been remarkable. Due to the Thunder organization’s preservation efforts, he’s only played 40-plus minutes in five games, all of which were games that went into overtime. “The Big O” played 44.3 minutes per game and Westbrook played 10 minutes less. His 30 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds per game averages would make a tremendous jump to 39.9 points, 14.6 rebounds and 13.3 assists per game if he played the same amount of time as Robertson. Not to mention, Westbrook has played 25 fewer possessions than Robertson did during the 1961-1962 season.
Understanding the Greatness
The main complaint circulating through Thunder World this season has been “Russell needing help.” This is very true. It’s both exciting and sad seeing Russell will his team to victory 90 percent of the time, but that narrative has made this season filled with triple-doubles even more unbelievable. He’s averaging 10 assists per game with no shooters other than an inconsistent Doug McDermott and a still developing Alex Abrines. The Thunder only feature one other guy in the starting lineup averaging more than 12 points per game and that’s Victor Oladipo. His bench is young, inexperienced and lacks confidence as well, with Enes Kanter being the only other threat offensively.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 10, 2017
This forces you to ponder what he could do if he was the point guard for a team like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets or Cleveland Cavaliers – three teams with a ton of offensive firepower.
This will be a major factor in MVP voting.
What a Westbrook Triple-Double Means for the Thunder
Even though Westbrook won’t admit it to the public, his team wins games when he gets triple-doubles. When he records 10 or more assists in a game, his team is 39-12, which would put OKC as the number 1 or number 2 seed in the West if you translate that into 82 games. At the same time, he can hurt the team and that’s what critics try to focus in on. When Westbrook shoots 25 or more times in a game, the Thunder are 17-18 on the season which would put them well under .500 in an 82 game season.
That isn’t all his fault. Westbrook has an uncanny ability to feel a game out in the first quarter where he decides whether he’ll have a distribute, or shoot-first style of game. Normally, when his teammates aren’t hitting shots in the first quarter, he sees that and takes command of the game, which looks bad but what else is he going to do when no one can hit a bucket? Keep passing to them late in the game?
OKC has a .786 win percentage when Russell records a triple-double, a .342 win percentage when he doesn’t and that translates into a (46-34) overall record and a .575 winning percentage on the season.
Yes, there’s been a potluck of triple-doubles this year for the NBA (114), but Russell is responsible for 42, nearly a third of those, by himself. James Harden adds 21 to that, which leaves the rest of the NBA with 38.
When thinking of current players that will retire as NBA icons, there were only a few names that came to mind, and Russell Westbrook wasn’t on that list. Now, it’s obvious that Russell will be on that list after his retirement. In his eight years of NBA experience, the man with a never-ending motor has yet to hit his peak.
He still has some work to do.