During a search for stats to answer a question Nix had in the comments (and I still don’t have an answer to that and I doubt I ever will – turned out to be a lot of work), I came across some pretty interesting numbers for Russell Westbrook. We all know his shot selection could be at times very poor and sometimes he didn’t have the look of a point guard trying to set up teammates, but rather a scoring point trying to find his own. And one stat really backs that up.
Last season, Westbrook took 51 percent of his shots 10 or fewer seconds into the shot clock (24-15 remaining on the 24). Compare that to the elite point men in the league – Chris Paul took 40 percent of his shots in 10 seconds or under, Deron Williams 36, Tony Parker 31, Chauncey Billups 41, Derrick Rose 42 and Rajon Rondo 43. Westbrook was at least eight percent higher than the next closest of that group.
Now it’s easier for a point guard to take shots early in the clock, because they have the ball first. But Russ taking so many shots early shows his “shoot first, pass later” mentality. It’s something that he absolutely has to overcome if he wants to be a successful point guard in this league. I thought the last month and half he was much, much better at looking to set his teammates up first and looking to shoot later, but he sacrificed his ability to score and his efficiency numbers took a hit. He’s a scoring point guard, whichever way you want to look at it. But he can also be a guy that makes players better around him too.
I can’t be sure without looking through every single player, but I think Westbrook might be top in the league in this category. Now understand that pace has a lot to do with this though. OKC was the 8th fastest team in the league and teams like New Orleans, San Antonio, Utah and Boston were very slow. So that’s a factor. Chris Duhon took 50 percent of his shots 10 seconds or under in to the shot clock in New York’s system. But then again, Steve Nash was at 40 percent. In fact, the seven teams that were faster than OKC and their point guards: Jamal Crawford 49/Monta Ellis 44, Duhon 50, Nash 40, T.J. Ford 45, Billups, 41, Beno Udrih 38 and Derek Fisher 41. Westbrook was higher than every single one of them. Hmm, hmm and hmm.
Now don’t be mistaken, almost EVERY player in the league takes the bulk of his shots at least 10 seconds in. LeBron was at 35 percent. Kobe 37. Dwight Howard 38. Danny Granger 44. Dwyane Wade 42. Kevin Durant 42. Dirk was unusual at 29. And point guards, as I said, are typically the higest in that category on the team. But it says something that Westbrook is the highest point guard in the league, and maybe the highest player period in the league. He rushes shots and sometimes is overanxious. He always seemed a little indecisive when left open. It seemed like his instinct said “Shoot it!” while his new point guard brain tried to say “Hold on just one second and look around!”
Now does this mean that Westbrook’s not a point guard and never will be one? No, absolutely not. This is one season in what will hopefully be a long 15-year career. Things will begin to turn for Westbrook as he continues to learn the game. He’s an interesting talent – a true tweener that doesn’t really fit either position but is talented enough to be one of the best young players in the league. Kind of odd, isn’t it? He really doesn’t fit anything perfectly, but yet, he’s a really, really good player. But game management and shot selection are clearly things he needs work on. I’ve written about it a bunch and we’ve all discussed it a lot. But this stat really shows some of his main defienciencies as a true point guard. But lucky for us, this is absolutely something you can teach with game film and repetition. All is not lost, not by a long shot.
I know we all go round and round about whether or not Westbrook is the point guard of the future. And I’m a little wishy-washy because I’m in the “wait and see” boat. I think he’s got a lot of learning to do, but he has the tools to be a good one. You’ve got to think back on other point guards and their rookie seasons. They had some low moments too. Tony Parker was no where near the player his rookie campaign that he is today. Same for Williams, Billups, Nash, Devin Harris or most anyone else. Players get better. It’s just kind of the way it works.
It’s a process with Russ and the fact that he had such a quality rookie season while also doing a lot of things wrong should tell you something about his ability. He’s an interesting player and we might not know what his exact role will be until maybe the end of next season. Or heck, maybe even the season after that. You can’t judge a player and his worth after one rookie season. You just can’t. Of course there are things he needed to do better (game management being one of many), but that doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship and go another direction. He thinks he’s a point guard. He wants to be one. And for a guy playing it for the first time full-time in his life against the absolute best players in the world, I’d say he did a pretty decent job.
Westbrook has a place on this team, but just don’t really know where yet. He could be a dynamic point guard. He could be a quality scoring two-guard. Or he could do both. I don’t really care which one it is as long as it helps the team win. And I’m sure Russ would say the same thing.
(And just because I was looking, a couple other stats that I thought were neato:
Other than Tony Parker, Westbrook was the only point guard in that above group to have more ball handling turnovers than bad passes. Westbrook 95 turnovers due to a bad pass and 144 because of poor ball handling. Chris Paul had 113 bad passes and 83 ball handling turnovers. Deron Williams was 134/78. Rajon Rondo was 129/59. Steve Nash 196/47. Parker was 71/101. Derrick Rose 106/84. Chauncey Billups 95/57. So many of Westbrook’s turns were plays where he got into the lane and lost the ball going up recklessly at the rim. He got stripped a ton going to the rack. He has got to be stronger with the ball next year.
One other thing is that Westbrook draws more fouls than any other point guard. He drew 180 fouls this season and the next closest point guard was Tony Parker with 164. In all of Westbrook’s faults, that is one thing he does extremely well. He gets by his man, forces the defense to collapse on him and he draws a foul. And he does it without flopping. Now once he can figure out how to consistently beat his man and then drop off a nice pass setting up a teammate, then we’ve got something serious here.)