Sports

Preposter-Russ!


What happened?

What happened?
Illustration: Getty Images

In his inaugural season with the Los Angeles Lakers, former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook has been underwhelming to say the least. Over his last ten games, the Brodie has averaged 15.2 points per game while shooting an abysmal 36.4 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from deep.

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Westbrook was supposed to help shore up a shaky Lakers backcourt and instead has made it more unstable en route to a 23-24 record, despite LeBron James averaging his most points per game since 2010. Westbrook’s greatest strength as an NBA player has been his athleticism. He’s 6-foot-4, yet his head has reached the rim on numerous occasions. He’s one of the fastest players in the league and possibly of all time. He’s insanely strong for his position and incredibly durable. His biggest drawback has always been that he can’t shoot. In 2022, Westbrook’s shooting problems have reached a new low as Westbrook can’t even hit 60 percent…on dunks.

In March, Westbrook assured the NBA world that he wouldn’t be missing any more dunks. Call us Maury Povich, because we have determined that that was a lie. According to NBA.com, Westbrook has attempted 17 dunks on the season and has made just ten of them, giving him a 58.8 shooting percentage on such shots from point-blank range. While Westbrook had seen a steady drop in dunk percentage between 2013 (95.6 shooting percentage on dunks) and 2021 (77.4), nobody could’ve predicted the massive drop in production we’re seeing this year.

How? How does one of the most flashy, exciting “above-the-rim” point guards of all-time turn into…well, THIS?!

Of all players with at least 160 shot attempts from inside the restricted area, Westbrook is shooting the second-lowest percentage (55.7 percent). Coincidentally, the only person shooting worse from that area with that many attempts is Westbrook’s former teammate and fellow former MVP James Harden (54.7 percent). However, on dunks, Harden is still shooting 100 percent on the season — albeit on just six attempts.

What is causing this sudden drop in “dunk efficiency” from Westbrook?

Is it the change in scenery? I doubt it. These problems didn’t start when he left Oklahoma City or Houston.

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Is it the fact that Westbrook is no longer the top option on his team? Doubtful. Westbrook played second fiddle to Bradley Beal in the scoring department just last year, and was the No. 2 option to Harden prior, so that’s out of the question.

Is Westbrook’s age finally catching up to him? Probably. As great as Westbrook has been throughout the entirety of his career, his game hinges on being able to run faster, jump higher, and out-muscle his opponents. At 33 years old, that’s much harder to do.

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Sure, you could look at King James and say “How come he can do it then?” Well, LeBron is a freak of nature. According to James’s former teammate Tristan Thompson, James has one of the worst diets ever and still dominates day-in, day-out. No mere mortal could experience similar results as LeBron. Westbrook doesn’t have James’s metabolism, or frame, or name attached to a comically bad sequel to an 80s classic, and therefore, he’s going to decline around his early thirties just like the rest of us.

While the “Westbrook is inefficient” narrative has sounded like a broken record for years at this point, it has really reared its head in 2022 to the point where it can’t be dismissed by even the strongest Westbrook stans. When Westbrook won his MVP award in 2017, he recorded a Win Shares per 48 minutes of .224 (124 percent higher than an average NBA player). Since then, he’s slowly dipped and ducked into just above-average territory and has gotten to the point where he’s not just playing poorly, he’s playing like a bench warmer. His WS/48 through January 12 was .048. I’m not saying the Lakers should bench Westbrook. I’m just saying he’s not playing anywhere close to what was expected of him when he joined James in L.A.

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Westbrook is just not what he once was, and frankly, the Lakers should’ve seen this coming. When Westbrook’s athleticism fades, it’s up to his technical skill and ability to work with his team that has to keep him at the top of his game, and we all know how good he is in those departments.

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