***IF YOU WANT AN EXPLANATION TO HOW I CAME TO MY CONCLUSIONS, REFER TO PART 1 HERE. PART 2 CAN BE FOUND HERE***
#3 Russell Westbrook
There are a few things to unpack here. For one, yes, I ranked Russell Westbrook at two to start the season. Yes, after calculating away in my basketball laboratory, Westbrook has had the third best season on the team.
First of all, my preseason ranking could be blamed on the bad taste the Utah Jazz series left in my mouth. It is one thing to lose a series, or even be upset in a series — that happens. But to be bullied, outplayed and mentally babysat by Ricard Rubio i Vives is another thing entirely.
My thinking was simple. If the Oklahoma City Thunder was going to take a next step with Paul George returning, it had to be because Westbrook became the second best player on the team. I know, blasphemy.
The way the season has gone has been simply that. Westbrook has stepped aside in macro and micro situations to allow George to be the MVP candidate he is, and the Thunder are better for it.
Yes, Westbrook can be the second best player but be ranked third in these rankings. Really, the difference between Westbrook and Steven Adams in terms of these rankings has been Adams’ progression, I feel, has been better and without as many hiccups as Westbrook.
That is a compliment to Westbrook. Never mind the fact that Westbrook leads the NBA in total assists, assists per game and is found three times in the top 11 of players who lead the league in assists to teammates — no other player/team appears more than once.
But what has been “holding Westbrook back” has been his shooting. Has Westbrook pulled back on his notorious quick trigger finger? Yes! But as a guy who has scored 27 points per game the last four seasons, this year’s 21 point output seems like there is some meat being left on the bone.
If Westbrook can pick up the shooting percentages — they have slowly climbed every month since December (39, 40 and 43 percent in the seven games in February) — then with his added effort on defense, leading the league in assists… you’re talking about one of the best players on earth.
One more thing on his defense. Westbrook has registered multiple steals in 27 of his 49 game appearances (55 percent) and three or more steals in 17 games (35 percent). This along with George’s league leading 2.3 steals per game helps the Thunder’s great defense trickle down the roster.
Again, Westbrook is the second best player on this team this year — and many nights, the best player. The poor shooting/scoring outputs have been so eye-opening because we are all conditioned sheep, ready to be herded into the “Westbrook dropped 30 again” pen. I like what I’ve seen from Westbrook in terms of a slow progression (which is why Adams is ahead), the thing will be for him to continue this post All-Star break.