NBA AM: Despite Big Stats, Is Westbrook Out Of Steam?

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The numbers Russell Westbrook has put up this season are mind-blowing. Some would say astounding, video game like, historic or just plain ridiculous. Feel free to choose your own set of adjectives.

But one thing is for certain, Westbrook is putting together a season for the record books, as he threatens to become the first player since Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season.

An entire season. Let that sink in.

Westbrook is averaging an otherworldly 40.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.3 assist in seven games since the All-Star break. But as strange as it may seem, those numbers could be masking the fact Westbrook has been running on fumes.

The Thunder have lost four consecutive contests and six of their last 10. The team is currently comfortably nestled into the Western Conference’s seventh spot – enjoying a 5.5 game lead over the upstart Denver Nuggets. Oklahoma City’s latest loss comes despite the fact Westbrook put up a career-high 58 points (on 39 field goal attempts) versus the Portland Trail Blazers on March 7.

The debate as to whether Westbrook is involving his teammates enough or whether he’s fun to play with can be saved for another column. Today, we’ll take a look at a couple of statistical trends that don’t immediately pop up on the radar when looking at Westbrook’s overall numbers.

Since the All-Star break, Westbrook has hoisted 69 three-pointers in seven games. That’s a whopping 9.9 attempts from downtown as we embark on the stretch run. Coming into the season, Westbrook had never averaged more than 4.7 attempts from deep in any campaign. This season, the All-Star is averaging 6.8 attempts. To be fair, Westbrook is shooting a career-best 34 percent from three-point land. So him shooting more is a reasonable occurrence.

But looking at Westbrook’s reliance on the deep ball by month paints a picture of his steady progression to relying on the jumper.

Three-point Attempts, Per Game, by Month

October: 2.3

November: 5.2

December: 5.5

January:  8.5

February: 7.0

March: 11.8

Besides February, which contained a rest period due to the All-Star festivities, Westbrook’s penchant for settling for the deep ball continues to increase as the season rages on. One of Westbrook’s strengths is his ability to get into the lane and wreak havoc on opposing defenses. So while Westbrook isn’t killing the Thunder by shooting the three, it’s also the shot opponents would rather him settle for – all things considered. Especially considering that he’s shooting just 29 percent from three-point range in his four March games, in which he has 47 attempts.

The story can easily be referenced by taking a deeper look at Westbrook’s shot selection splits.

October – December (distance and percentage of shot attempts)

Less than 5 feet: 36 percent

5-9 feet:  6 percent

10-14 feet: 16 percent

15-19 feet:  19 percent

20-24 feet: 14 percent

25-29 feet: 9 percent

January – March (distance and percentage of shot attempts)

Less than 5 feet: 28 percent

5-9 feet:  4 percent

10-14 feet: 12 percent

15-19 feet:  21 percent

20-24 feet: 18 percent

25-29 feet: 18 percent

During the first few months of the season, 58 percent of Westbrook’s shot attempts were 14 feet or closer. Over the last three months, 44 percent of Westbrook’s shot attempts were in the 14 feet or closer range.

It’s hard to even fathom saying a guy averaging 40 points per game since the All-Star break is losing a bit of steam, but in the case of Westbrook, the increasing reliance on his jumper could speak to a level of fatigue brewing beneath the surface. That might become all the more visible when it’s time for the playoffs.

As Westbrook continues to attempt to average his season-long triple-double, it will be interesting to see whether he continues to rely on deep jumpers or can revert to his normally spry self.