Oklahoma City Thunder: What's Bothering Russell Westbrook?

Joshua J VannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder waits after a timeout during a 106-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the best teams in the league thus far. On both sides of the floor they have been utterly dominant, ranking in the top five in terms of team offense and defense. While many would be swift to place OKC's success on Kevin Durant's shoulders, Russell Westbrook is just as deserving.

The fifth-year guard is averaging 22.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.4 assists for his team and has been a catalyst in its 34-11 record. Westbrook's shooting percentage of 41.1 per game is down from the 45.7 percent he shot last year, but he has made up for it by increasing his assist numbers.

With James Harden balling in Houston, he has been in charge of the playmaking duties. Westbrook has improved his assists per game average to 8.4 compared to his 5.5 from last season, all the while keeping his turnover average about the same (3.6 in 2011-12, 3.5 in 2012-13).

However, the soon-to-be three-time All-Star has struggled as of late. He has shot 41.3 percent in his last 10 games and just 34.7 in his last five. The Thunder's last five opponents have been Denver, Golden State, Sacramento and the two teams in Los Angeles. While none are dominant defensively, Westbrook has struggled both shooting the ball and distributing it. In addition to his poor percentages, he has also been turning the ball over 5.2 times in the last five contests.

For the Thunder to be successful, they require efficient play from both Durant and Westbrook. Durant is averaging 32.2 points on 48.9 percent in the same aforementioned span of time. So it begs the question: What is hindering Westbrook?

OKC is 2-3 in its last five, with wins against the Clippers and the Kings. Westbrook went for 44 points, 20 assists and nine turnovers combined in the victories, while shooting 43.2 percent. However, he was a no-show in the team's losses.

His numbers average out at 21 points, 8.6 assists, 5.6 turnovers and a miserable 29.6 shooting percentage. Westbrook may have had his worst showing as a pro in the Thunder's loss to the Warriors, scoring just 10 points on 18.8 percent (three of 16 field goals), alongside more turnovers (six) than assists (four). 

In OKC's unforeseen loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers, he scored 17 points, yet on a 6-for-22 shooting night. While his nine rebounds and 13 assists are not to be sniffed at, Westbrook just couldn't get anything to work against a team that struggles containing opposing point guards. He was the only player on his team to not shoot 50 percent or above, and had four of the Thunder's nine turnovers. 

While it is certainly cause for concern, Westbrook is actually playing his best basketball this month. After shooting 41.3 and 39.4 percent through November and December, respectively, he has elevated his accuracy to 43.1 percent in January. In a confusing fashion, however, the team is just 10-5 this month. 

While one would certainly expect Westbrook's increased production to lead the team to success, his recent struggles have limited its ability to keep ahead in the West. San Antonio has taken over the top seed with a 36-11 record, as Oklahoma City has gone 7-3 in its last 10.

The Thunder are undoubtedly one of the better teams in the NBA. Their All-Star duo of Durant and Westbrook is extremely hard to limit, which makes their role players all the more potent. Albeit, whether Westbrook is simply in a shooting slump or battling an unreleased injury, the Thunder need much more from their point guard to continue their already stellar success.