Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook is coming off of one of the worst performances of his NBA career, as he made just seven of his 30 field-goal attempts in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night. Yes, you read that right: 7-for-30. Westbrook took 19 three-pointers in the defeat, making just five.
On the year overall, the seven-time All-Star is shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor, 24.1 percent from three-point range and, for some reason, 64.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Broken down into the two best stats to measure shooting efficiency, Westbrook owns a career-low true-shooting percentage of 47.6 percent and en effective field-goal percentage of 44.4 percent.
So, to put it in plain English, Russell Westbrook is not having a very good season. The question is, is the game of the 2017 NBA MVP—who turned 30 years old in November—aging poorly?
Westbrook has always been a player who plays with reckless abandon. Sometimes, it makes the Thunder deadly. Other times (like Thursday evening, for example), it is to the detriment of his team. Now, to be fair, Westbrook has still had a positive impact for Oklahoma City overall this season, as evidenced by his outstanding plus-10.9 net rating.
But, with Westbrook’s offensive game clearly declining and his athleticism beginning to wane, just how much longer will the UCLA product remain a positive force? Here is the thing: Westbrook’s entire game is based upon sheer athleticism, will and determination. He has never been a great shooter. He has never had great floor vision. He has never been an elite defender.
His dominance has solely been a result of his ability to break down defenses, burn slower guards and because of him just wanting it more than the other guy. Cheesy cliche, I know, but in Westbrook’s case, it’s completely true. That being said, Westbrook’s style is polarizing and can grate on teammates’ nerves. We don’t have to look much further than Kevin Durant to see that.
Still, for the first 10 years of his career, we accepted the bad with the good, because the good seemed to outweigh the bad. Westbrook has always been a thrill to watch and is probably one of the most violent in-game dunkers this league has ever seen. A point guard version of Shawn Kemp, if you will.
But it’s now getting to the point where we seriously have to wonder about the mortality of Westbrook’s NBA career.
One can make the argument that playing alongside of Paul George has kind of thrown Westbrook for a loop over these last two years, but then explain how he was able to be so effective with a better version of George in Durant as a teammate?
It’s deeper than just fit, and we don’t have to look any further than Westbrook’s free-throw woes to see that. Forget the fact that he is shooting 64.5 percent from the charity stripe for a second; let’s instead look at the fact that he is averaging just 5.9 free throws per game, his lowest mark since his second year in the league.
Last season, Westbrook averaged 7.1 foul shots a night. Two years ago, that number was at 10.4, but, to be fair, his usage rate was significantly higher that season, so that can be considered a bit of an outlier. Over the course of his career, however, Westbrook gets to the line 7.2 times per game and 7.5 times per 36 minutes. This year? Those numbers are 5.9 and 5.9, respectively.
This is a clear illustration that Westbrook has lost some of his explosiveness, as he just isn’t getting by defenders with regularity anymore.
As far as the hideous percentage? I’m not sure what the issue is there, as Westbrook is a lifetime 80.7 percent free-throw shooter. I will say, though, that Westbrook shot just 73.7 percent from the stripe last season, which was, by far, a career low. Does this signify that Westbrook has some tired legs when he steps to the free-throw line? Is it a confidence thing? Who knows, but whatever it is, Westbrook is clearly on the decline in terms of his effectiveness as a free-throw shooter, both in terms of getting to the line and making his foul shots.
Of course, Westbrook would be able to mitigate that problem if he were a decent perimeter shooter, but he isn’t. He is a lifetime 30.6 percent three-point shooter, and he has shot 30 percent from beyond the arc just once over the last five years. The 24.1 percent clip he is posting this season is his worst mark since his second year in the NBA.
In the past, Westbrook has alleviated his lack of a three-point shot with his free-throw shooting ability (which we have already been over) and his knack for hitting mid-range jumpers, but this season, he isn’t doing that, either. He is actually failing miserably at it.
Westbrook is shooting a paltry 15.8 percent on shots between three and 10 feet away from the basket, and from 10 to 16 feet away, he is connecting on just 33.6 percent of his field-goal attempts. Both of those numbers are career lows.
Here is another interesting stat, as well: Westbrook has only made 18 dunks in 36 games played this season, which would put him on pace for 41 dunks over a full 82 games. That would be his lowest mark since he played in only 46 contests in 2014 and threw it down 30 times. That goes along with his decreasing free-throw rate, demonstrating that Westbrook’s quickness and athleticism is deteriorating.
The good news for Westbrook is that he still has time to tailor his game in order to suit his age. The bad news is that he has shown zero signs of growth in any of the areas in which he struggles over the course of his career.
He has never been a reliable jump shooter, and it seems hard to believe he is going to suddenly become one now. He has also never been one to rein in his shot attempts, and his stubbornness which has served him so well for much of his career may prevent him from moving forward in that category, as well.
When you think of the Thunder, you think of Russell Westbrook, but Westbrook is no longer even OKC’s best player. That title now belongs to Paul George.
Not only has Westbrook lost the title as his team’s best player, but he may be losing his game altogether.