Russell Westbrook: MVP Candidate and Fantasy Assassin (Bias warning)

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Out me way! Me next snu-snu!

Russell Westbrook has completely ruined my fantasy league and in the process he has become a dark horse favorite on the MVP candidate list.  He’s averaging almost 24 points and 9 assists per game along with 51/2 rebounds and 2 steals.  Tremendous numbers from a lead guard, and his team is hanging in there in the rankings despite a few missed games from the projected team MVP candidate, Kevin Durant.

But then maybe they don’t miss Durant so much this season.  He’s leading the league in scoring at 27 points per game (the last time a player averaged less than 28 points per game and led the league for a season was the strike-shortened 1999 season when AI took the scoring title with 26.8 ppg), but his efficiency has tumbled back to earth from a sky high season last year.  His offensive rating has taken an 11 point hit, meaning for every 100 possessions he touches the ball, he creates 11 fewer points than last year.  Durant’s field goal percentage is less than 42% right now, which is terrible.  And I blame Westbrook.

Unfair?  Sure it is.  Plus I drafted Durant with the first overall pick in our fantasy league so I’m horribly biased and bitter about it, but trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.  The problem as I see it, is that while Westbrook is playing very productive basketball, he’s doing so at the expense of productive touches for Durant.  That doesn’t sound right, does it?  Russell is dishing out almost 9 dimes per game, some of those must be to Durant, right?  True.  And Durant’s usage rate is still over 30%, so he’s clearly getting shots up.  True again.

But if you watch the games, it’s reminiscent of Wade / LeBron dynamic in Miami (in fact David Thorpe pointed that out to me in an ESPN chat, so I’m stealing the notion from a much smarter basketball mind).  When Westbrook attacks the rim, which is his great strength as a player, Durant becomes a spacer and observer.  He’s effectively transformed into Gallinari on offense because nobody else on that starting line-up can catch and shoot.  For that matter, Durant’s three point shooting is way down, a problem that you tend to see when there’s only one three point threat on a team (he gets the “never leave him at the line” defenders).  When Durant operates with the ball in hand, Westbrook’s lack of outside shooting range hurts the team spacing.  They are effectively competing with each other for the same type of touches rather than complementing each other.

Could Durant be the one to adjust his game?  Yes he could, but he shouldn’t have to.  Last year Durant averaged over 30 points per game shooting 48% from the field and getting to free throw line 10 times per game.  It seems as though the team should encourage that sort of behavior rather than a point guard with a higher usage rate Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and well every gunner other than Kobe, LeBron, and Durant.  I suppose that doesn’t sound as bad as it is.  The problem is that Westbrook is shooting less than 44% from the field, and his effective field goal percentage (factoring 3 point shooting) is the lowest of anyone in the top fifteen in usage rate.

Then there’s the passing.  Westbrook is dishing out 8.7 assists per game at a rate of 44 assist percent.  He’s good.  There are only a few players to ever have a usage rate over 30 and an assist rate over 40.  They include LeBron James and Dwyane Wade among others.  The point being, they aren’t point guards.  Tony Parker appears on the list, but he’s a scoring point if ever there was one, and the only reason his team has been so successful with him playing that aggressive style is because Pop’s system doesn’t call for a true point guard and Manu supplies the missing playmaking.

I wonder if the Heat would let me dribble?

So Westbrook is playing like a super-productive undersized wing who isn’t a great shooter.  I can think of one time a team’s best player fit that description and made the finals.  The 2001 Philadelphia 76ers did it with Allen Iverson dominating the ball.    Unfortunately for the Thunder, there’s no Dikembe Mutumbo on their team.  Like Glenn Robinson, Keith Van Horn, Chris Webber, and Carmelo Anthony who all played that second scorer role next to Iverson, Durant is in a position where he has to work his own offense in on limited touches.  The difference of course being that Iverson was legitimately better than all of those guys when they played together (except maybe Melo at the end).  Durant IS BETTER than Westbrook.  Kevin’s banged up, true enough, but if you look at his performance last year or this summer in the world championship, you can see what he is.  And if you watch Oklahoma City play, you can see that it’s not all injury bringing KD’s game down.  It’s also a highly productive MVP candidate who is stealing his Thunder.

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3 Responses to “Russell Westbrook: MVP Candidate and Fantasy Assassin (Bias warning)”

  1. pmadavi Says:

    I think we got a Nancy Kerrigan situation here.

  2. jpalumbo Says:

    You always think with your wrench. That’s what I like about you.

  3. High Above Courtside Says:

    Nice recognition for a great player in a small market, who does not get the national exposure he deserves.

    Without durant he put it to the Celt’s at home a couple weeks ago, they had no answer for him.

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