How Russell Westbrook Transformed Into A Superstar
Russell Westbrook has been one of the best players in the NBA for the last decade. The 2017 MVP has nine All-Star games under his belt and will undoubtedly wind up in the Hall of Fame. That being said, many fans doubted Westbrook when he was traded to the Houston Rockets. Fans and media alike labeled Westbrook as a “stat-padder”, criticizing his triple-double play style. Not everyone felt this way, but the Westbrook supporters were in the minority. Regardless of his overall perception six months ago, Russ transformed into a different player in Houston this season. The changes he made ultimately prove that Russell Westbrook is a superstar.
Russell Westbrook Deserves Superstar Status
In his first season with Houston, Westbrook scored 27.5 points per game on a career-best 47.4 field goal percentage. He also tallied 7.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game. To put that into perspective, each of those four stats for Westbrook outranked those of Kawhi Leonard. Yes, you read that correctly.
Although they’re impressive, these basic stats don’t show Westbrook’s transformation. His most recent 19 games are where that change is visible. In those games, Russ was averaging 32.3 points per game while shooting 53.7 percent. Only Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal scored more in that time span, though both were less efficient. These numbers are no fluke, but rather are a sign of how talented Westbrook presently is after transforming himself in Houston.
How Westbrook Changed His Game This Year
In his career, Russ has struggled mightily behind the arc, hitting only 30% of his three-point attempts. Despite the inefficiency, the Brodie shot 5.6 threes per game over his final three seasons with the Thunder. This year, he’s limited that number to 3.8, making for his lowest since 2013.
Looking back at his past 19 outings though, he’s taken just 1.9 threes per game. That number is jaw-dropping for Russ and shows how significant Westbrook’s adjustments are this season. A drop-off that significant isn’t unintentional or random. That is something the point guard clearly wishes to change. Many fans took notice of this, but the shots Westbrook stopped taking makes up just half of the story.
How did Russ score 32.3 points per game while also forgoing three-point shots? Westbrook used his explosiveness and drove the ball to the hoop more often than we’ve ever seen, scoring right at the basket. The NBA actually began recording player’s drives as a stat in 2013, and defines the term as:
“When a player attacks the basket off the dribble in the halfcourt offense. Does not include situations where the player starts close to the basket, catches on the move, or immediately gets cut off on the perimeter”
Westbrook has always dominated this playstyle given his mixture of explosiveness and craftiness. He’s one of the fastest players in basketball, as well as one of the strongest guards. This makes him one of the best in the league at getting to the hoop off the dribble, which is exactly what he started doing more often. This season, his 20.5 drives per game were not only a career-high but also an NBA record.
Once again looking at the past 19 games, Westbrook has averaged an absurd 24 drives per game. That’s a ludicrous jump from the 18.5 drives per game he averaged before that. This change goes hand-in-hand with his shortage in three-point shots and fully explains how Westbrook upped his game this season. Russ has moved away from long-range jump shots, focusing more on beating defenders at the rim.
Why These Changes Make Russ Elite
Normally, evaluating a player with years of experience in the league solely off a 19-game stretch is a sketchy process. Not to say 19 games is a small sample, but it does feel diminished compared to the other 855 games in Westbrook’s career. That being said, these 19 games are able to be set apart from the rest because of the clear transformation. Russell Westbrook is a different player now, and that’s not an overstatement. Those 19 games are a reflection of how greatly Russ has reconstructed his offense, and there’s no reason to think he’ll revert back. He ended his season riding a 34-game streak with 20+ points, averaging 30.7 points in that time span. Nobody can figure out how to stop this version of Westbrook, so why would he stop playing this way? The Brodie’s not slowing down and deserves the respect of a superstar.