Russell Westbrook has been largely incredible for the Thunder this season, putting up enough triple-double performances to have him firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation.
But while Westbrook has indeed been stuffing the stat sheet on a regular basis, his performances have lacked efficiency, especially recently.
Only twice in his last nine games has Westbrook managed to shoot better than 34.5 percent from the field, and he’s shot just 25 percent and 31.3 percent respectively in his last two games. But when asked about Westbrook’s heavy work load and recent statistical slide, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said the amount of minutes he’s playing his star has no impact on Westbrook’s latest poor performances.
From Royce Young of ESPN.com:
[S]ince Durant’s last game on Feb. 21, Westbrook is averaging 37.0 (minutes) a game. Over his last four: 40.0 a game.
“I know what you’re getting at, and I don’t know what your angle is, but he missed some shots, and he’s missed some shots the last couple games,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He plays hard. He’s going to get tired after every game. That’s what he does. That’s what an NBA player should do.
“That has nothing to do with his minutes,” Brooks continued. “His minutes have been good all year long and we’ve monitored them. He missed some shots. Every time you have a bad shooting game, or a couple bad shooting games, it’s not because you’re tired. It’s just things don’t fall. He competes, he leaves everything on the floor and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
I would agree that minutes, by themselves, are not at the root of Westbrook’s issues. Instead, it’s the level of responsibility Westbrook has to carry his team offensively that’s causing him to wear down at this late stage of the season.
Usage rate is an advanced statistic that measures the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes. Westbrook leads the league with a mind-blowing number of 38, which is the highest by far of any player over the past 12 seasons. Most league-leaders have finished the year with a number right around 33 during that 12-year span.
This is clearly what the problem is, though it’s not like the injury-ravaged Thunder have much of a choice. After two straight losses, they’re now clinging to the final playoff spot in the West by only a half-game over the Pelicans, and at least four of their remaining six games on the schedule should pose a significant challenge.
So, despite the fact that Westbrook is waning, don’t expect anything to change as the regular season comes to a finish.
“He’s one of the best players in basketball. What do you want me to do, take him out?” Brooks said. “That makes sense.”