The big Thunder talk this morning is about Russell Westbrook and his ESPN anthology game: 30 for 30. Thirty points, thirty shots in the Thunder’s 104-101 loss to Denver on Monday night.
I am a big Westbrook fan, and in the Wednesday Oklahoman, I’m going to write a column in defense of the Thunder point guard.
But for now, let’s admit the obvious. Westbrook took too many shots at the expense of Kevin Durant not getting enough. Durant got 18 shots, made eight and scored 31 points. That’s efficient offense. Westbrook took 30 shots, made 12 and scored 30 points. That’s inefficient offense.
No one play gripes me about Westbrook. Not one. Not even that air-ball 3-pointer with eight seconds left. Down three, eight seconds left, it’s OK with me if someone jacks up a three. Get it up, if it misses, maybe someone rebounds. Westbrook shoot it poorly. I don’t believe he shot it unwisely.
No, the problem with Westbrook on Monday night, and something he hopefully can learn from, is that Durant needs more shots. Give six of those Westbrook shots to Durant, put them both at 24, and the Thunder’s in business.
The NBA stat geeks have come up with a great measurement, a tool called usage. How many possessions does a player end, either by shot or turnover, while he’s on the court.
For the season, Westbrook has “used” more possessions than has Durant, 31.6 percent to 30.6 percent. That stat doesn’t alarm me. I’d just as soon see Durant get the 31 percent and Westbrook the 30, but either way, it’s OK. They spend most of their minutes together — Durant averages four more minutes per game, primarily because Westbrook has a good backup in Eric Maynor and there’s really no one to play in Durant’s stead, especially with Jeff Green traded to Boston.
But think about those usage numbers. That’s about right, isn’t it? Don’t you want Durant and Westbrook accounting for 62 percent of the shots/foul shots/turnovers when they’re on the court together, which is most the game? You don’t want to spread it around too much, give Thabo or Kendrick Perkins or even Serge Ibaka and James Harden an equal share.
So here was the problem Monday night. Westbrook’s percentage went up to 37.7 percent. Durant’s was 27.6 percent. That’s the difference in those six extra shots.
For the entire four-game series against the Nuggets, Westbrook’s usage is up: 35.7, to Durant’s 27.8 percent. Again, that’s too much. Get them both back around 30.
Some have argued that Durant needs to have a higher usage percentage, but I don’t think so. Westbrook’s the point guard. The ball’s going to be in his hands a bunch. If the ball leaves his hands too much, bad things can happen. Sign me up for a different 30/30. Thirty percent usage for Durant, 30 percent usage for Westbrook.
What’s absolutely fascinating is this. The Thunder lost three of the four quarters Monday night. Denver led 26-20 after one, outscored OKC 26-24 in the third and 33-30 in the fourth. But in the second quarter, the Thunder outscored Denver 25-19.
And in the second quarter, Durant and Westbrook both had their lowest usage percentages.
Here is Westbrook usage by quarters: 36.3 percent, 26.3, 40 and 45.8. That’s right. After Westbrook entered the game with 10:16 left, almost half the Thunder possessions ended with a Westbrook shot or turnover.
Here is Durant usage by quarters: 32 percent, 21.1, 23.1, 33.3.
A couple of interesting thoughts. The quarter in which Durant and Westbrook did the least, was the Thunder’s best. And that goes right along with what we’ve seen in this series. The one rout in the series was Game 2, when Harden was the star and the Thunder role players asserted themselves.
Outside of Ibaka, that didn’t happen Monday night. And I don’t blame Westbrook (or Durant) for that. The other Boomers get a little passive. Sometimes Westbrook takes over a bunch of possessions because he wants to. Sometimes Westbrook takes over a bunch of possessions because he has to.
In the fourth quarter Monday night, Westbrook and Durant re-entered together, at 10:16. From that point on, they combined to either shoot, get fouled or commit a turnover on 19 of the Thunder’s 24 possessions.
Harden had a dunk and a drive resulting in foul shots, the latter with 7:53 left. Ibaka made two foul shots with 2:33 and a jumper with 1:41 left. And Kendrick Perkins missed a tip.
Hey, it’s great when Durant and Westbrook are doing most of the shotmaking. But getting everyone else a little more involved is paramount. The Thunder is better when Ibaka and Harden (and heck, Nick Collison and even Sefolosha) are contributing, too. That’s the job of Westbrook, yes, but that’s the job of everyone. You can’t go standing around. Westbrook doesn’t stand around and isn’t going to wait on anyone who’s trying to decide.
So in no way do I want to bridle Westbrook. He just needs to look to pass a little more. Not a lot. Just a little. Primarily to Kevin Durant.