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Opinion

Russell Westbrook teams don't win

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21st May, 2021
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Any time you are responsible for an entire league changing the way they do things by 84 per cent in just five years, you must be doing something right.

Professionals wouldn’t just follow something so reverently if it didn’t work. Everyone knows Stephen Curry is primarily responsible for the 46 per cent increase in team three-point attempts from the seasons of 2016 to 2021 and that definitely led to success.

So therefore, Russell Westbrook being accountable for the 84 per cent increase in players stacking triple doubles in the same five year span (667 per cent increase since 2012) must in fact mean that Westbrook is a formula to follow. Or maybe not…

When Westbrook won the MVP in 2017, I didn’t have a problem with it. He was the first player in 55 years to average a triple double while putting up 31 a game.

He was the focal point of the best NBA rivalry of the 21st century against Kevin Durant. Plus he had the highest Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) score and Box Plus/Minus (BPM) score ever in that same season, forcing analytics folks to change the formula because his season didn’t pass their smell test.

Russell Westbrook

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

But ever since that last season with Durant, the year they went from within one game of making the finals, Westbrook has been unable to get past the first round of the playoffs.

Westbrook became the first MVP to not make a conference finals appearance within his first two post-seasons of winning the award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007. But Nowitzki just needed four more until he won the finals. It has been four years since Westbrook won the MVP and we have had three years of first-round exits and one second-round exit.

But how much should we blame Westbrook for these playoff failures?

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2017 Rockets over Thunder (4-1)
This was the MVP versus the runner-up MVP. Although this year kicked off the first NBA award show, so it was still unclear who won league honours.

By the way, the now-scrapped award show had and still has massive potential if it is done after the regular season and before playoffs. Even before the finals will do, similar to the Brownlow night in the AFL.

The two finals teams would not have to attend but having the rest of the league’s stars and an edgy host to poke fun at rivalries and to make fun of disgruntled stars that just got bounced is must-see TV. If it’s just the TNT crew in a room with NBA stars, I will watch.

Westbrook was on the floor for 39 minutes a game, putting up 37, 12, 11 as the Thunder had a +4.9 point differential. When he was rarely off, the Thunder had a -51 point differential.

That means that when Westbrook was off the floor, the Thunder were outscored 137-79 in 45.5 minutes of total court time. The worst came in Game 5 when Westbrook only sat for six minutes in which the Rockets outscored the Thunder 27-9.

What else can the guy do?

Blaming Westbrook 0/10

2018 Jazz over Thunder (4-2)
The reigning MVP got Paul George and Carmelo Anthony but lost to a rookie Donovan Mitchell. It doesn’t sound quite right. What’s remembered by everyone this series is that Anthony was nearly invisible pushing Jerami Grant to take his minutes that Westbrook had no answer for Mitchell’s early breakout party and Westbrook snapped at a fan going into halftime.

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Russell Westbrook facilitating the offence.

(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

What’s less remembered is Andre Roberson’s season-ending and career-ending Achilles injury that blasted the Thunder’s defence in more ways than can be imagined.

Westbrook had 45 points in Game 5’s 25-point comeback for the Thunder. In Game 6, OKC lost by just five in which Playoff P scored an abysmal five points, going 2-16, while Westbrook had 46 points, going 18 for 43.

The Jazz had the perfect kryptonite to the rim-running MVP, called defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert, and he still averaged 29, 12 and eight.

Blaming Westbrook 4/10

2019 Blazers over Thunder (4-1)
It was a series defined by the Damian Lillard step-back dagger and wave. It’s also marked as the first season Westbrook relinquished control a little and trusted a teammate since Durant departed, allowing George to place third in MVP honours as the primary scoring option.

But after a close Game 1, Westbrook melted in Game 2 with six turnovers, as well as shooting five of 20 (25 per cent) from the field. In the next loss he topped it with five of 21 (23 per cent) from the field. He would shoot a series-combined 40-111 (36 per cent).

Worse than that, Lillard burned the whole franchise to the ground without as much as a smirk.

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Blaming Westbrook 6/10

2020 Lakers over Rockets (4-1)
Westbrook made it past the first round and it only took him seven games against a Chris Paul-led Thunder team that was expected to make the lottery. The irony.

They then lost to the championship Lakers in five but I can’t tell which series is more embarrassing. Three things were made certain from this Rockets team last season. Mike D’Antoni is not a good post-season coach. Small ball to that extent will never work. Finally, the Westbrook trade to Houston was a massive mistake.

Apart from Harden’s Game 4, where he historically made two field-goal attempts but ended with 21 thanks to the referees, Westbrook had a ten-point exhibition in Game 2, going 1-7 from three, as well as another ten-point clinic, going 4-13 with only four rebounds and six assists. In a five-game series, Westbrook had two separate ten-point games.

Blaming Westbrook 8/10

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That means Westbrook-led Thunder teams are 4-12 in the playoffs. His Houston team went 5-7. And the Wizards clearly have not been very memorable either.

Most of these series losses were not even close. Has Westbrook really dropped off since his MVP year? His points may have dipped, but he has averaged a triple double in four of the last five seasons.

Is this not still prime Westbrook? The way Westbrook plays every quarter like it’s his last makes him my favourite player and I don’t think he will ever change the way he plays.

But at what point are we going to admit his style of playing does not equate to winning basketball?

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