The Garnet Mine

Is Russell Westbrook a Bad Teammate?

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(photo via USA Today)

(photo via USA Today)

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

(photo via USA Today)

Tommy Monaghan, Editor

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Obviously, Russell Westbrook is very good at basketball. He averaged a triple double last year, and that is impossible to do without being one of the best point guards in the NBA. But that is also impossible without an incredibly high usage rate. Last season, Westbrook had a 41.7% usage rate — the highest in NBA history, breaking his own record that he set in 2014-15.

Once efficient scorers Carmelo Anthony and Paul George have struggled to play well next to Russell Westbrook (photo via USA Today)

Having a high usage rate doesn’t necessarily mean that Westbrook is a bad teammate, but it seems that whenever someone leaves OKC they get significantly better, and whenever someone comes to OKC, their numbers drop. OKC’s two big acquisitions this off season were Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — two relatively efficient scorers in the NBA. However, now that they are on the Thunder, Carmelo and George have the third and second worst field goal percentage (at 40.5% and 40.1% respectively) in the NBA among the 35 players that attempt 15 or more field goals per game. They only trail their teammate, Russell Westbrook. Ex-teammate Serge Ibaka said “you play so hard on defense, then you come to offense and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball.” This frustrates teammates, causing not only their usage to drop but also their efficiency.

After leaving the Thunder, Victor Oladipo has led the Pacers to a 17-14 record this season (photo via Fox59)

When players leave the Thunder, the opposite happens. The most notable example this year is Victor Oladipo. Oladipo wasn’t great when he was on the Thunder, but now that he has left, his points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks have all taken a considerable leap. Oladipo was ranked the number 78 player in the NBA by ESPN after last season, Paul George was number 10. Now, only 30 games into the season, the Russell Westbrook effect has caused debate over which of the two is better — something that would have been unheard of last year. Domantas Sabonis, the other player in the Oladipo trade, has also significantly improved this season. He is averaging significantly more points, assists, and rebounds than last year in the same amount of minutes. In New York, Enes Kanter has thrived alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Kanter is scoring much more efficiently than last year and is rebounding significantly better. All of these players have made significant improvements post-Westbrook, and this is only the players that left last year. If we go back farther, James Harden was a force on the OKC bench before he left for Houston. When he left for Houston, however, he became much more than a scoring sixth man. He’s averaged at least 25 points per game and almost ten assists in each of his years with the Rockets.

Junior Sloan Martin said “Oladipo was terrible in OKC, but when he left he became better than Paul George was in Indiana” Knicks fan Jack Neave agrees, he said “Kanter is the most underrated player in the NBA, he has become incredibly good this year after leaving OKC.”

Russell Westbrook is obviously very good at basketball. He is arguably the most athletic player in the NBA. He has the tools to win a championship, but his play style drains his teammates. Westbrook’s high assist numbers don’t tell the whole story, when you have a usage rate as high as he did, 10 assists doesn’t necessarily mean that you are moving the ball. He has to learn to move the ball and get his teammates involved, so they will be able to get into an offensive flow and as a result, play better defense. If, as Ibaka said, a player comes in and doesn’t touch the ball on offense, then he will become lazy on defense, hurting the whole team.

Junior Tommy Donovan said “Harden deserved the MVP last year, Westbrook’s stats were great and all, but Harden actually moves the ball around to everyone on his team.”

Championship winning teams of the last 10 years have one thing in common, an unselfish offensive philosophy. Junior John Goldszer said “Westbrook won’t be winning a championship any time soon if he doesn’t change his ways.”

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Is Russell Westbrook a Bad Teammate?