To watch Russell Westbrook shoot the ball is to watch a live-ball NBA demonstration of that time Charles Barkley lost a 3-point-shooting contest to Ernie Johnson on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”
To watch Westbrook grab rebounds is to watch a guy who should be getting downcourt and leading the fast break, starting the Oklahoma City Thunder offense off in the way most likely to let the defense get set and avoid being scored on in transition.
And to watch Westbrook dish assists is to watch the very definition of what Jeff Van Gundy coined the term “selfish assists” to describe; if he can’t find a wide-open catch-and-shoot teammate, he’ll keep the ball himself and toss up a brick with too much time left on the shot clock.
Put all three of those attributes together and it’s easy to pile up triple-doubles.
So easy, in fact, that Westbrook is in his third straight season of averaging a triple-double per game. He’s at 21.2 points, 11.2 assists and 11.1 rebounds per game this season despite shooting a cover-your-eyes awful 41.5 percent from the field and a pathetic 24.8 percent on 3-pointers while shooting 4.5 3-point attempts per game.
Averaging a triple-double occasionally means stringing them together.
Westbrook notched his eighth straight triple-double Thursday night, scoring 15 points, dishing 15 assists and pulling down 13 rebounds in the Thunder’s 117-95 demolition of the Memphis Grizzlies.
With that, he passed Michael Jordan for the second-longest triple-double streak since Wilt Chamberlain set the mark with nine straight games in 1968, according to ESPN.
How many triple-doubles is that? pic.twitter.com/JcOGOsk4HO
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 8, 2019
Until last night, Westbrook and His Airness were tied for second place with seven.
Those Wilt triple-doubles have a history of their own; after the Big Dipper was accused of being a “selfish” player, he vowed to lead the league in assists in 1967-68.
Which, to his credit, Chamberlain did; he averaged 8.5 assists per game that year and indeed led the NBA in the stat, gathering a bunch of triple-doubles along the way.
Westbrook was the NBA MVP in 2016-17 the first time he averaged a triple-double.
Plenty of people in the NBA media universe questioned whether he even deserves to be an All-Star with his poor shooting. His production has been so devalued that he’s not even regarded as the best player on his own team; that honor belongs to Paul George, whom fans voted an All-Star starter.
During this triple-double streak, Westbrook has only hit even half of his field goal attempts twice, and they were the two lowest-volume shooting games of the streak, one where he went 6-of-10 and another where he hit 7-of-12.
He has had three games where he shot under 36 percent in the same stretch, including one where he was a horrific 5-of-20.
Then again, the Thunder have won seven of Westbrook’s eight triple-double games, they’re 9-1 in their last 10, and they sit third in the NBA Western Conference standings at 35-19, 3.5 games back of Golden State for first in the West.
But at the same time, you can’t ignore just how bad Westbrook’s shooting has been.
For the season, his effective field goal percentage (which counts 3-pointers as 1.5 makes to better reflect their effect on shooting efficiency) of .444 is fourth-worst in the NBA among players who have taken at least 500 shots.
His true shooting percentage (which also factors in free throws; Westbrook is a very poor free throw shooter at just 64.2 percent) of .479 is third-worst in the league.
And among 3-point shooters with at least 200 attempts besides Westbrook, only Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is below 30 percent (29.9). Westbrook is hitting just 24.8 percent of his 3-point shots, worse even than Barkley’s worst-in-NBA-history 26.6 percent from out there.
But hey, Westbrook is selfishly racking up counting stats and riding George’s coattails, so he must still be good, right?
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