Triple-Double Troubles

Westbrook has been dazzling fans all season, and so far it has equated to OKC sitting at 7th in the West with a winning record just below .600. So far, Westbrook’s stats have been nothing short of eye-popping and yet even with all the stats combined it begs the question of how long this can act as the band-aid to the real situation that Oklahoma City is currently facing.

Westbrook’s style of play has been lauded by many while at the same time heavily criticised in the same breath. We shouldn’t be surprised that Russell is achieving such feats shown by the multiple triple-doubles because he was showing these capabilities in the 2014–2015 season when Durant suffered his foot injury that sidelined him for 55 games. During this season Westbrook racked up 11 triple-doubles with 10 coming while Durant was on the sidelines (or rather the corporate box for some reason).

Those 10 triple-doubles that Westbrook acquired resulted in 6 wins for the Thunder — where if we exclude the 2 games Durant played that year — Westbrook would have played 40 games individually for the 2014–2015 season. In those 40 games that year, the Westbrook-led Thunder finished with a record of 22–18 (.550) which could provide some insight into what could the record of this years Thunder team. We can go even deeper into this season that had fans of Westbrook lobbying for him to be the next MVP, this of course was backed by the theory that Durant would have to be removed from the picture for even longer than 50+ games. Ask Thunder fans now and I’m sure some of them are glad for Russell to have more control over the offense, but did they fail to see that he’s had it the whole time?

The stats speak for themselves, during his 10 triple-doubles his averages were outstanding even for the small sample size — 31.5 Points, 12.8 Assists, 11.3 Rebounds, 22 FGA and all while shooting 44% from the field. Although thats only taken from 10 games, it’s not far off from his current averages for 2016–2017 so far at 30.5 Points, 10.6 Assists, 10.5 Rebounds, 24 FGA and a 42 FG%.

While Russell’s stats certainly look similar, his team is far from that of the 2014–2015 season. The Thunder went through a fair amount of roster changes after years of questionable bench line-ups. Oddly enough, we’d soon see the Thunder have a few key players depart in search of bigger things.

One huge pick-up this season came at the expense of the last true Thunder starter Serge Ibaka, who was flipped to the Magic for the rights to Domantas Sabonis and shooting guard Victor Oladipo. With Russy now at the focus of the offense it was clear from the start that everyones numbers would suffer in some way due to Westbrook’s style of play. Oladipo however, still poses a huge threat in a backcourt with Westbrook boasting some of the most athletic talent in the league — but it’s all about how you use it.

Trying to stop Westbrook and Oladipo combined is a scary thought, that is if you have to guard them from within the 3 point-line. Even with their shared inconsistency 3 point percentage it would seem wise for them to rely on their teammates to carry that load. That said, Westbrook’s teammates are definitely set-up for the triple-double stat-a-night game and in Oladipo’s case he is the exact person that Russell could use in order to make winning easier even though he isn’t Durant’s caliber, Oladipo simply doesn’t require the same needs.
Other players on the Thunder have been vehemently defensive on Westbrook’s behalf and claimed that his style of play isn’t “cutting them out” or subtracting from their own personal game. Of course every now and then its not unlikely to cringe at a shot Westbrook takes miss or make. If your team is winning then why not defend your best player upon hearing criticism of him? Make no mistake, Westbrook is the Thunder and takes them as far as he goes but is it wrong to ask otherwise?

The real question here is could he be taking them further?

There’s no denying that the Thunder are winning when Westbrook goes for the triple-double however the larger question becomes how long? How long can Russell sustain the stats before it becomes a burden to have such a large amount of production on his shoulders? How long can he play the style he does before it takes a physical toll? How long will it take before his teammates question his methods on the court should they start losing? The answer should reveal itself as we approach April and May when the standings will reflect if all of this has paid off for Westbrook and the Thunder.

Hypotheticals aside, Westbrook is chasing another accolade this year and so far his stats have put him ahead of the pack for Most Valuable Player in some peoples minds. Once again however, Westbrook’s chances of getting the vote should depend on OKC’s winning result in the West, as his former teammate James Harden is hot on his heels and currently boasting a slightly better record with his Houston Rockets.

The triple-doubles while amazing, still begs the question to be asked — is this all worth it? — there is the lingering possibility of a huge upside for Westbrook individually but also a crushing downside for the Thunder collectively. At the moment, the enjoyment and sheer entertainment is historically pleasing for all NBA fans, but will fans feel the same when the playoffs arrive?

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