The (silly) perception that Russell Westbrook held Kevin Durant back and needed to pass the ball more has mostly dissolved, thanks to the glaring issues and problems the Thunder had without him on the floor, as well as the fact he’s a freaking good basketball player.
But regardless of the mythbusting that’s gone on with Westbrook recently, the idea that he’s a ball-stopper, or maybe even, gasp, a ball-hog, could be accurate, as Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com looked in to today.
The results are this: Per SportVU, Westbrook on average holds the ball longer between passes than any other player in the league at 7.8 seconds. Number two? Brandon Jennings at 7.3 seconds. But Haberstroh notes this:
As we can see here, Westbrook possesses the ball for 7.8 seconds between passes, which is the highest rate in the league by a healthy margin. That’s not an indictment on only him. Thunder coach Scott Brooks doesn’t escape blame, either, as his offensive system doesn’t exactly predicate itself on ball movement. But it’s worth noting that Westbrook’s backup, Reggie Jackson, possesses the ball for 5.8 seconds on average between passes (although to be fair, more than a quarter of Jackson’s minutes have come alongside Westbrook, where he’s not bringing up the ball).
This certainly won’t help Westbrook’s reputation next to Kevin Durant, perhaps the best scoring weapon in the game. At this pace, Westbrook will have one of the least efficient high usage seasons ever, as he’s using 33 percent of the Thunder’s possessions on the floor while registering a pathetic 47.2 percent true shooting percentage (Durant is currently at 61.3 percent). Westbrook may want to defer to Durant more as the point guard struggles to return from his knee injury.
That’s the thing: Westbrook is often the butt of the bad Thunder offense joke, left with the ball in his hands after a failed set or badly executed attempt to get the ball to KD. And so much of it is by design. Scott Brooks’ offense isn’t complicated, which manifests a fine line between beauty and frustration. When it’s clicking, it’s good. When it’s not, Westbrook looks like a hog and OKC’s offense like a sty.
(Also: The top 10 ball hogs includes Stephen Curry, James Harden, Ty Lawson and Kyrie Irving, players far from a reputation of hogging.)
But the perception that Westbrook plays personal keep-away from Durant is entirely inaccurate, as Haberstroh wrote for another piece, looking at top sharing tandems. In the past decade, Westbrook ranks third in assists to a teammate having helped on 1,009 of Durant’s baskets. That puts him only behind Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire (1,155) and Chris Paul to David West (1,120). So if you’re thinking that Westbrook hogs and refuses to pass to KD, you’re mistaken.
Plus, there’s this fun fact, via Nick Gallo of the team’s official site: Westbrook is averaging 1.2 Free Throw Assists per game, tops in the league. And obviously, a lot of those have come in setting up Durant.
Westbrook has struggled some though in coming back from injury, shaking off rust. Where it’s primarily showed is his finishing ability, where he’s been extremely inconsistent. But here’s a dirty little secret with Westbrook: He’s kind of an inconsistent basketball player in general. Look at his game logs from last season. They’re mixed with absolute brilliant performances, solid ones and avert-the-eyes kind of lines. What makes him so special is that regardless of his line, his competitive spirit and motivation are always present, which creates critical winning plays on both ends of the floor. Even in games where Westbrook is “bad,” he’s pretty good. Like against the Spurs on Wednesday.
So far in his three weeks back (10 games), Westbrook is averaging 20.0 points on 38.8 percent shooting with 5.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds. His issues have been scoring efficiency and turnovers, but he had similar troubles last November too, turning it over 4.0 times a game with 41.5 percent shooting.
I’ve already seen some grumbles and chatter that maybe he came back too quickly or that he’s not the player he was. Total hooey is what that is. Don’t leave yourself captive at what you last saw, because a little more than a week ago, Westbrook was dropping 31, 26 and 30 in a four-day span. He’s back, just not all the way. And that’s a good thing for the Thunder, not a bad one. Because a better Westbrook means a better Thunder.
So really, while Westbrook may be a couple weeks behind having had no training camp or preseason, the fact he’s hogging, playing wild and doing crazy things on the court only affirms it for me: He’s still Russell Westbrook.