Wizards

By the numbers: Westbrook may have flaws, but still gets to the rim

Wizards

Russell Westbrook has long been one of the league's most controversial players among fans and the media, on one hand presenting undeniable entertainment value and volume numbers that rival all-time greats, yet also representing the flaws of inefficiency in a more extreme and high-profile way than perhaps anyone other player.

He has never been able to shoot threes at a high clip and in an era that is in many ways defined by them. He also likes to play hero ball late in games and it has cost his teams in the past.

But despite his inability to shoot from long range, Westbrook continues to put up numbers and earn accolades. This past season in Houston, at the age of 31, he still averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists and shot a career-best 47.2 percent from the field, all while playing alongside the ball-dominant James Harden.

It was enough to earn him his ninth All-NBA selection. Only LeBron James has more among active players, with 16.

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Westbrook may never be a great three-point shooter, or even a serviceable one. His offensive game is more concerned with getting to the rim. The good news for the Wizards, who just traded for him, is that he can still do that at an elite level.

Westbrook, in fact, led the NBA last season in drives per game, with a career-high 20.8 of them on average. It was the third time in four years he's led the league in the category.

 

Westbrook didn't just get there, either, he converted points. On those 20.8 drives per game, he shot 55.7 percent. For comparison, his new teammate Bradley Beal averaged 16.1 drives per game and shot 52.5 percent.

Westbrook's speed and aggression with the ball remains a weapon, just as it was when he was at his peak powers, back in 2016-17 when he won the MVP award. This past season, 41.5 percent of his field goal attempts were within three feet of the rim, the second-highest rate of his career. He shot 64 percent within three feet, also second-best for him.

If Westbrook can still get to the rack, that should help balance out the Wizards' offense. They have shooters with Beal, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant, in particular. There could be plenty of space for Westbrook to go to work with the option to pass out to the perimeter.

Now, passing is certainly an interesting subject to bring up with Westbrook. He did rank 13th in assists this season, and was seventh in assists points created. He also led the league in assists the previous two years. Yet, he still has a reputation for being selfish with the ball, only passing to collect assists.

The numbers do show some ball-hog tendencies. He played 36 minutes per game last season, yet averaged fewer passes than Wizards backup point guard Shabazz Napier, who played 24 minutes per game. Westbrook was 95th among qualified players in passes per game.

Westbrook was also second in the NBA in field goals attempted after seven or more dribbles. He shot just 45.5 percent on those plays.

Ball movement isn't often associated with him. The Wizards, for example, were third in passes per game last season, while Westbrook's Rockets were 29th out of 30 teams.

Head coach Scott Brooks is going to have to find a way to utilize Westbrook's abilities while also making sure the ball is in Beal's hands as much as possible. Beal has become one of the most complete scorers in the league with the ability to attack at all three levels. He should not be taking a backseat.

But the upside is the talent that has made Westbrook one of the best players of his generation is still there, at least for now. He will get to the rim, that we know. It's what the Wizards do with that skill that will determine how well this partnership works.

NBA.com and Basketball-Reference were used in this research