September 16, 2009

NBA Top 50: Russell Westbrook (No. 41)

russell westbrook, originally uploaded by ballerblogger.
OtB is counting down the days by ranking the top 50 players in the league. On Wednesday, there are 41 days 'til the NBA's first tip off of the 09-10 season.

The Skinny: Westbrook could suffer the lamentable fate of so many “combo” guards. The Thunder didn’t take Ricky Rubio because Westbrook fancies himself a lead guard, but is he really? Hearing that, I immediately worried he would end up pigeon-holing himself just to prove he can be a pg. After one year, though, he looks solid enough that it might not matter. He’s a strong complement to Durant. Really, those connections to Durant won't fade unless one of them abandons ship. R-Dub could be the NextPippen. Gasp! Especially if the Thunder are the #1 most likely team to become a dynasty in the 'leven-twelve-&-teens (No Lakers? Really?).

Seriously though, it's a bit of an indulgence being able to think of the two of them through the lens of the other. Durant is impossibly long and hits from so deep you can't think of killer, cold-blooded nick names quick enough to match him. Westbrook is compact like a firecracker, but not juvenile like one in any way. Whereas Durant still feels like he's growing into himself, Westbrook feels like Athena springing fully formed into the league. Forget firecrackers, and leave the guns at home, Black Powder is here to stay.

Russell Westbrook 0, originally uploaded by pedritobasso.
Why he's #45: Why does Westbrook get the nod over fellow up and comers Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo? Because he was a rookie last season and he hit on all cylinders. Through February of 2009, he hit for averages of 20.6 points, 5.9 assists, and 6.1 rebounds. That's insane. 6'3" guards don't rebound like that. Only 9 rookies have ever gone 15-5-5, and of course that 9 holds legends like the Big O, the Big Inductee (of last week, not 5 years from whenever Shaq retires), the Big MVP, and Big Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Westbrook also holds a record not so desirable; he led the league in turnovers. However, check the ranks he joins with that distinction. Just below him is Dwayne Wade, Steve Nash, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, and then Yao Ming and Chris Paul. Not bad company, and it just goes to show Westbrook's handling the ball a lot and taking on loads of responsibility as a rook.

Wade is actually a good comparison, though Chris Paul is the more trendy and obvious thought with Russ. Wade has perfected that combo guard role. More telling, however, is the similarity between Wade and Westbrook's rookie year advanced stats. That's right. Stats. I don't like to tout them too much, but these new ways of looking at things are just so useful. Peep basketball reference, my god, if you've been living under a rock, and especially the player comparison device. Then you can write columns just like me! Anyway, comparing Westbrook's and Wade's first seasons, and keeping in mind Westbrook's two years younger than Wade was, and you'll see Westbrook was actually stronger than the Dark Knight in most categories. Sure he shot less accurately, but he played 20 more games.

Here are the important stats. He rebounds and dishes a bit better than Dwayne, which are obvious ones, but he also scored for efficiently in his time on the floor, going for 17 points per 36 minutes versus Dwayne's 16.8. Similarly, Westbrook's percentage of possessions ending in an assist is a bit higher, as are his percentage of possessions ending in turnovers and percentage of his team's possessions used by him (usage). The numbers are similar enough, however, that one can easily project Westbrook rising to higher and higher echelons as he matures. The hope is that the shooting percentage goes up. That free throw percentage could be a good sign. And the win shares, hopefully those go up too, but that's attributable to his team's young losses.

salute my shorts., originally uploaded by douglas martin.
Maybe I lost a little steam by delving into that realm, but here's what you need to hold on to: Westbrook is a solid talent, and he's just starting to realize it and come into his own. If he's not a solid second guy on a solid playoff team in a few years (or even a serviceable number one on a sucky again Thunder after Durant leaves) I will salute your shorts.

By Sean "Ho'omana'o" (previously "snagamat") with 1 comment


Update: I forgot to include the link for Black Powder that makes my chosen moniker for Westbrook make sense. Basically, it's just another word for gun powder that I came across when researching fire crackers.

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