Thunder Can't Live Without Russell Westbrook, but Can They Live with Him?

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIDecember 21, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 19:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder waits for play after timeout during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 19, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder can't live without Russell Westbrook. Can they live with him?

In typical Westbrook fashion, the mercurial point guard posted 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and three steals during a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He also shot 9-of-28 from the floor and finished with a game-high eight turnovers.

The same number of turnovers as the rest of the Thunder rotation combined for.

This is what Oklahoma City fans have come to expect from Westbrook. With his unparalleled athleticism and uncanny ability to get into the lane for two points, the former UCLA Bruin has established himself as one of the best scorers in the game.

Unfortunately, for every 30-point performance we've seen, there is the potential for Westbrook to put up a dud in the consistency department.

Such is why Westbrook is both a valuable commodity and severe liability. The question is, which end of the spectrum is most important to the Thunder?

Is it his damaging tendency to get reckless with his shot selection and ball-handling? Or is it Westbrook's ability to post a nightly double-double?

We're going to get to the bottom of it.


Individual Numbers

With an evaluation of the basic statistics, one can see why Russell Westbrook is such a polarizing figure.

Westbrook is presently averaging 21.4 points, 8.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. He's done so on 35.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 78.9 percent shooting from the free-throw line.

With that being said, Westbrook is also shooting 40.7 percent from the floor.

Furthermore, Westbrook is averaging 3.4 turnovers per game. That number is down for the third consecutive year, but is a progressive decline more important than the number itself?

For confidence, know this.

Only seven players that average at least 30.0 minutes of play have a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Westbrook. Only two of those players are averaging more assists per game than he is.

For further encouragement, Westbrook has produced 11 double-doubles in 26 games. He posted seven in 66 games during the 2011-12 season.

As for those who believe this year to be a fluke, he had 24 in 2009-10 and 31 in 2010-11.


Elite with, Great without

If we're asking whether or not the Oklahoma City Thunder could survive without Russell Westbrook, the numbers suggest they could. Just don't think that means they're better off that way.

When Westbrook is on the floor, the Thunder are averaging 105.3 points scored and 94.7 points allowed per 48 minutes. When he's on the bench, they average 101.0 points for and 97.5 points against per 48.

From elite to great.

Contrary to popular belief, the Thunder are actually more responsible with the ball when Westbrook is on the floor. Just check the numbers.

The Thunder have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 17.6 with Westbrook and 16.7 without. They post a turnover ratio of 11.52 with Westbrook and 15.10 without.

Turnover ratio measures the percent of a team's percentages that end in a turnover. So much for Westbrook playing too reckless.

As for that wild shooting, OKC has a slash line of .484/.405/.843 with Westbrook. Without him, it sits at .472/.395/.852.

According to the numbers, the Thunder are a great team with or without Westbrook. The numbers also state one undeniable truth.

They are better with him than without him.


More Than Just Numbers

The numbers speak truth. Anyone who tells you they don't is off their rocker.

The fact of the matter is, Russell Westbrook's contributions are about much more than what the statistics tell you. Not only is he a dominant performer, but he's the vocal leader of a championship-caliber team.

Nick Gallo of the official Oklahoma City Thunder website reports that head coach Scott Brooks said just that.

“[Russell Westbrook] watches film, he has the on-court experience, the practice court experience, all of the things he has learned in the last four or five years is starting to come together,” [head coach Scott] Brooks said. “It’s paying off now. He understands our system very well and he’s the vocal guy also. He’s not only the defensive guy with his effort, but he’s the defensive guy with his words.”

Whether you enjoy Westbrook's animated style of play or not, the coaching staff and players respect him. Which is the key to this topic of conversation.

Gallo proceeds to relay coach Brooks' comments on Westbrook's impact on their defense.

“I think he has been defensively as good as he has been offensively this year,” Brooks said. “He’s so consistent, we know he is like a spark plug on our defense. He starts it off, he has good ball pressure with the pick-and-roll coverages, and he’s getting his hands on a lot of basketballs. He’s in the right spots. I really believe he’s one of the best two-way players in the league.”

Not only is Westbrook an offensive weapon, but he's the leader on defense.

Whether a mind outside of the Thunder's locker room understands it or not, everything Westbrook does is an attempt to help the team. Westbrook is not selfish but rather too caring in the sense that he wants to do it all on the floor.

As detrimental as it can occasionally be, the Thunder wouldn't have it any other way.


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