Oklahoma City Thunder: How Efficient Was Russell Westbrook Last Season?

Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

By anyone’s estimations, Russell Westbrook had a monster 2014-15 season. Averaging 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists per game–and with a Player Efficiency Rating of 29.1 proves that.

Ten years ago numbers like that would have probably won him an MVP award but in today’s analytically minded NBA where efficiency is key, we’ve learned to look past the traditional box score and delve a little further. Sure he put up monster numbers but was Russell Westbrook’s 2014-15 season efficient?

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If you judge him by his field-goal shooting (43 percent), you wouldn’t think so but FG percentage alone doesn’t tell the full story. Players like Westbrook who attack the rim and draw shooting fouls at a high rate, will obviously have their FG percentage affected by being fouled so often.

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Some stat heads use the Effective Field Goal Percentage when analyzing offensive efficiency but that isn’t accurate either, as it doesn’t incorporate a player’s ability to get to the free throw line–which for a good free throw shooter is the most efficient play in the game.

Westbrook was excellent at getting to the line last season; only former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate James Harden had more trips to the charity stripe in 2014-15.

An underused stat is the Points Per Shot, or PPS, which in essence is what offensive efficiency is all about — how many shots did it take you to score X amount points? With this statistical model players are rewarded for drawing fouls and getting to the line and not penalized for missing a shot they were fouled and negated on.

So how does Westbrook’s efficiency stack up when using this model?

Here’s a look at the top 10 players in 2014-15 using PPS:

1. DeAndre Jordan1.776.5
2. James Harden1.5118.1
3. Jonas Valanciunas1.488.2
4. Jimmy Butler1.4314.0
5. Stephen Curry1.4216.8
6. Timofey Mozgov1.397.0
7. Isaiah Thomas1.3811.9
8. Anthony Davis1.3817.6
9. LeBron James1.3618.5
10. J.J. Redick1.3612.0
T30. Westbrook1.2822.0

Russell Westbrook finished the season tied for 30th, which doesn’t seem all that impressive, but look at the FGA per game. Westbrook’s shot total dwarfs the rest of the field; we need to take usage into account here. After Kevin Durant went down, Russell Westbrook was basically the entire Thunder offense.

It wasn’t until Enes Kanter arrived before he found some help and with such a high usage efficiency suffers — think LeBron James in last year’s Finals after Kyrie Irving went down.

It’s unfair to compare Russell Westbrook’s efficiency to someone like DeAndre Jordan, who isn’t required to force the issue on the offensive end and not to mention his numbers being inflated by the Hack-A tactic. A more accurate assessment can be made if we compare Westbrook with the other high usage players in the league.

So here’s the top 10 PPS for players with minimum 15 FGA per game:

James Harden1.5118.1
Stephen Curry1.4216.8
Anthony Davis1.3817.6
LeBron James1.3618.5
DeMarcus Cousins1.3318.1
Kyrie Irving1.3216.5
Blake Griffin1.2817.1
Klay Thompson1.2816.9
Rudy Gay1.2816.4

Even on this list Westbrook’s 22 shots a game stand out above the rest. Only one other player in the league averaged more than 20 FGA per game last season — Carmelo Anthony 20.2 FGA, 1.20 PPS. Yet even after taking all those shots, Russ still had the same PPS as Klay Thompson — who most people view as a very efficient scorer.

While in previous years, criticism of Westbrook’s inefficiency might have been warranted, in 2014-15 that wasn’t the case. No player in the league was asked to do as much as Russell Westbrook had to on the offensive end.

While some of that is on Scott Brooks lacking a fluid offensive game plan, mostly though it was the amount of injuries the Thunder had to deal with throughout the season.

That’s not to say Westbrook can’t improve. He still takes too many long 2-pointers and his 3-ball is still inconsistent, but his PPS number has improved every year since 2010. And no doubt it would have been better in ’14-15 had the Thunder been healthy.

Obviously Westbrook’s FGA will go down with the return of Kevin Durant, and it’s fair to assume that under Billy Donovan the Thunder will run a more efficient offense, one less reliant on isolation plays, which should lead to a more efficient Russell Westbrook.

While last season might not have been an MVP year for Westbrook, it was certainly more efficient than some of the stat heads will let you believe and chances are it will be better again next season. If OKC can finally stay healthy — fingerd crossed — and the adjustment to Billy Donovan’s offense is smooth, then maybe we’ll all start to view Russell Westbrook a little differently.

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