Our Washington Wizards player evaluation series is down to two players, plus a couple more posts for Head Coach Scott Brooks and General Manager Tommy Sheppard. We have two players left, namely, the starting backcourt. Today, we’ll get to Russell Westbrook.
How did Westbrook perform last season?
Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game in 65 appearances for the Wizards in the 2020-21 season. This is the fourth triple-double average season he had in the last five seasons.
His signature game came in a 125-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on May 10, when he scored 28 points, dished 21 assists and grabbed 13 rebounds because it was his 182nd career triple double, breaking a long-time record held by Oscar Robertson.
Besides the triple doubles (Westbrook had 38 this past season), the biggest strength Westbrook showed in the 2020-21 NBA season was his resilience throughout the season and he improved as time went on. At the beginning of the regular season in December and January, his shooting percentage was below his season average of 43.9 percent. His shooting percentage in January was just 39.8 percent. The main reason why Westbrook wasn’t at his best early on was due to a left quadriceps injury he suffered during training camp.
But by the time he won the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for regular season games in May, Westbrook shot 45.7 percent from the field and was averaging 26.3 points per game.
Another thing to note is that Westbrook’s rolling turnover percentage average decreased as the season went on as well, according to Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).
Finally, Westbrook had a PPA score of 129, the third-highest among all active Wizards and second-highest among all players who were in Washington for the entire season.
Well, at this point, I think everyone knows Westbrook's most glaring statistical weakness. His shot selection can improve. As you can see from his shot chart, Westbrook is a volume shooter and he shoots a lot of threes, the type of shot he’s not particularly great at.
Westbrook's shot chart for the season wasn't terrible. Obviously. his three point efficiency isn't great. But his midrange shooting was around league average in most areas. pic.twitter.com/QW4szDryjw— Albert Lee (@aleeinthedmv) July 7, 2021
In addition, Westbrook tends to shoot a lot of midrange jumpers, but here’s the thing. While they are bad shots from an analytics point of view, he did shoot around the league average from these areas. If he extends his shooting range a bit more reliably to the three-point line, perhaps Westbrook won’t be so bad from there.
Also, while Westbrook continued to put up great total numbers in the box score, his advanced metrics provide a more complicated picture.
Going back to Cleaning the Glass, the Wizards scored 2.3 points less per possession when Westbrook was on the floor and their rebounding percentages were actually lower as well. That said, the Wizards defense gave up 2.9 less points per 100 possessions, so Westbrook was a “net positive on the court.” These numbers took into account the entire regular season, so Westbrook’s numbers would have been better in April and May as opposed to December and January.
And finally, Westbrook’s turnover rate is too high, where he ranked in the 18th percentile among point guards. Given that his usage rating is very high (35.7 percent on Cleaning the Glass, 30.2 percent per Basketball Reference), it’s to be expected that Westbrook will turn the ball over many times per game. However, a turnover percentage of 15.1 percent is still very high and he’s been declining in this area relative to the league since the 2017-18 season.
What’s next for Westbrook?
Next season Westbrook will make $44.2 million in the last set year of his current super-max contract. He can exercise an option to get paid $47 million in 2022-23.
Since Scott Brooks is no longer the Wizards’ head coach, there are rumblings that Westbrook wants to play elsewhere. Social media seems rather excited over the Los Angeles Lakers trying to make an offer for him, in part because Brooks interviewed for an assistant coaching position there. And apparently, Nina, Westbrook’s wife got followed on Instagram by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
While this certainly makes a nice conspiracy theory for the Lakers to poach the Wizards (and force them into a new rebuild with a soon-to-be angry Bradley Beal who will demand a trade) because they rightfully let Brooks go, a Westbrook trade is going to be difficult to execute.
Last season, the Wizards were able to trade John Wall, their long-time point guard for Westbrook because both were on supermax contracts and weren’t happy with their current team situations. And thankfully, that trade saved the 2020-21 season, even with its faults. But I just don’t find it easy for the Wizards to take some combination of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and maybe Dennis Schroeder if he re-signs with the Lakers in a two-team deal.
At this point, I think the Wizards are going to do what they can to keep Westbrook and Beal happy enough so they exercise their options in the 2022-23 season or otherwise re-sign. Crazier things have happened, but I think Westbrook will play for the Wizards next season because they’re ultimately trying to keep Beal happy and in Washington beyond next season. That starts with the hiring of a head coach who will have a plan to keep both guards happy, and Westbrook’s turnover rate down.