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Russell Westbrook's Turnovers: What's the Deal?

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Westbrook's always been a high-turnover player, but his past few games have seen his numbers skyrocket. We delve into why, and whether that could actually be a good thing.

Go on, take it!
Go on, take it!
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder have been absolutely cruising over the past couple of games, and Russell Westbrook has been right there with him. His performances are constantly on the verge of netting him a triple-double, and some of the highlight reel plays that he's pulled off have been unbelievable. There's no question that he's a huge part of this team's success this season, and I'm not looking to put that into question with this article.

But there's one area of Westbrook's game that has significantly regressed since his return from injury. And that area is turnovers. He's averaging 4.1 at the moment, which is the highest it's been over the course of his 6 year career. The scary thing is that number appears to be growing. He logged a whopping 8 turnovers in the Thunder's recent defeat of the Nuggets, while pitching in 5 during the Thunder's wins against Orlando and Chicago.

Of course, Westbrooks turnovers aren't really hurting the Thunder that much. In fact, Westbrook's turnovers have rarely hurt the Thunder at all, as his low assist to turnover ration has been a problem for his entire career. At this point, it doesn't seem like something that's going to be fixed. Rather, Westbrook's dynamic ability to score and play at a high speed generates turnovers on its' own, and as a team the Thunder simply have to learn to roll with the punches. Simply put, the good manufactured by his shot-creating ability far outweighs the bad caused by his turnovers.

Still, you have to wonder what his recent slew of turnovers is all about. To answer that question, I looked at all of Westbrook's turnovers in three recent matchups against the Bulls, Nuggets, and Pacers. All three games were runaway wins for OKC, and all three of them had Westbrook turn the ball over 5 times or more. From there, I broke Westbrook's turnovers into two categories: Passing Turnovers and Individual Turnovers. Below, you'll find the results of my search, along with a few observations that I had.


Passing Turnovers

  • The Thunder are always looking for easy plays. A whole lot of these passes are the first to occur past the half-court line, and they're usually thrown to a player with the idea that he's going to shoot. These plays become turnovers because the plays are usually telegraphed and easy to sniff out from the opposing team's perspective. The Thunder often score on these plays, so it's hard to say if they shouldn't be used as frequently. But I would definitely encourage a greater sense of urgency if the Thunder are going to try to quickfire plays on a regular basis.
  • There's a lot of dropped passes by Ibaka. It's hard to give any analysis on this, since I'm glad Westbrook is working so hard to get Ibaka to produce points. But I'd also love to show this highlight reel to all of the Perk haters out there. Catching bullet passes in the paint isn't easy! /endbigmanrant
  • Sometimes, Westbrook has to pass without thinking. It's extremely encouraging that all of his missed passes were on target, and that he knows where all of his teammates are on the floor. The problem is that he has to develop a better natural sense of where his opponent is. Obviously it's a very advanced skill that's impossible to master. Still, there's times where you definitely get the sense that Westbrook dribbles himself into a bad situation and has to fire a no-look pass to avoid losing the ball or putting up a bad shot.
  • Westbrook is a great passer, and his shot selection is miles ahead of where it used to be. All of those old memes talking about how Westbrook never passes the ball are utter hogwash at this point. He knows what he can do and he plays within himself, but he's still not afraid to try new things. All three of those traits, in my opinion, are key to becoming a successful basketball player.


Individual Turnovers

  • Westbrook should be getting the ball in the low post. A couple of these plays illustrate that perfectly, as he attempts to post up a smaller defender way out on the perimeter and gets burned on some silly call. I've seen him take bad shots in those same situations. If the Thunder could just isolate him on the block or even in the high post, I think he'd have a lot more success in those situations.
  • The second turnover in this video is the exact type of turnover that everyone THINKS Westbrook gets. He tries to do way too much with the ball, gets the attention of two defenders, and ends up dribbling it off his knee. While it's true that this does happen from time to time, the fact that it only occurred once over the course of three turnover-laden games says a lot.
  • The missed rebound against the Nuggets and the "traveling" call against the Bulls are freak occurances.


Final Thoughts

Are these turnovers a good thing? That's the question I've consistently asked myself throughout this analysis. Obviously the way in which they're happening is a good sign when you take it in the context of Westbrook's career, but the frequency at which they're happening can't be good. Right? I mean, I somehow feel like it's a good thing because for every missed pass you see above, there's probably an accompanying highlight play that totally demoralizes the other team.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that 90% of these turnovers were made with good intentions in mind. It's a flimsy statement to make, but I feel like Westbrook's game is heading in the right direction. The majority of the turnovers are the result of simple plays, but it's the Thunder's lightning-quick execution of these plays that makes their offense so mean. And, quite honestly, I don't think his numbers will be this high for this long.

So Russ, keep on goin' on. No one wastes time discusses the turnover stats of a championship point guard.

What do you think about Westbrook's recent increase in turnovers? Let us know in the comments!