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Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook’s necessary triple-double brilliance

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Russell Westbrook’s play of late has hearkened comparisons to the all-time greats

NBA: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Following the post-Kevin Durant fallout, Russell Westbrook has embraced whatever role necessary for Oklahoma City Thunder basketball to survive. Ironically, the necessary has assumed a celebrated form of generation-defining production. As Westbrook shoulders OKC's immediate fate, his recent all-around execution has become the stuff of modern-NBA lore.

The spit-fire 6'3 competitive force is currently averaging a triple-double later in the season (20 games) than anyone not named Oscar Robertson. This towering display is enough to shatter the realm of tactile perception while reaching rarefied status.

Consider that 51 long years have elapsed since another player has grasped such an exhaustive on-court mastery this deep into a competitive campaign.

Yet the ease of Westbrook's transcendence belies the nature of its urgency. An Oklahoma City Thunder iteration now bereft of a once-lauded core has been in acute need of each point, rebound, and assist that Westbrook's exploits have afforded.

Currently, the slap-dash Thunder sits atop a congested Northwest Division with an ever-improving 12-8 record. The defending division champions have reeled four consecutive wins following a deflating 3-7 stretch. However, as Oklahoma City’s competitive flame has rekindled, one constant has emerged: Russell Westbrook’s triple-double tear.

Throughout his team’s undefeated advance, Russell Westbrook has proffered stellar averages of 28.8 points, 14.3 assists, and 14 rebounds. Yes, in the past four games OKC’s thunder has amassed 115 points, 57 assists, and a phenomenal 43 rebounds.

Never before has a player of Westbrook's relatively (NBA-adjusted) undersized stature dominated the glass in such fashion. Overall, the 200 lb point guard ranks tenth (10.2) in rebounds per game. But what does the man himself have to say about his staggering work on the boards?

“I just be chilling there, act like I’m not doing nothing. I can hear the basketball bounce, and once it stops, that means everybody shoot it, so just turn around.”

The above video highlights in detail the ferocity with which Westbrook attacks missed shots. And while this aspect of Russell’s insatiable three-pronged onslaught is arguably most impressive, there are yet other standout factors worthy of evaluation.

Floor generalship

Westbrook’s league-leading assist percentage sits at a career-apex of 58.1%. This is close to nine points better than his previous high (49.6) from last season. At 11.3 apg, Westbrook trails only former teammate James Harden’s mark of 12 apg for league-high honors.

While the above averages are phenomenal, they only account for a portion of Russ’ efficacy as floor-general. Per game, Westbrook is among the very elite in assist points created (26), potential assists (21), and assists adjusted (13.7). Meanwhile the 28-year-old leads all qualified players in both assist-to-pass percentage (18.4) and assist-to-pass percentage adjusted (22.4).

As both the naked eye and hard data show, no player league-wide has a greater impact on his team’s overall success than Westbrook — 41% usage rate, 9.9 OBPM, 14 BPM, and 2.9 VOPR (all NBA bests).

Each of these stellar numbers serve as a testament to Westbrook’s preternatural court vision.

In this clip, Westbrook finds a rolling Steven Adams in prime position to finish the nifty jump-hook over Karl-Anthony Towns. On the season, Westbrook has assisted on 2.2 of Adams’ 4.9 FGM per game.

However, the Thunder’s prized off-season acquisition, Victor Oladipo, has most benefited from Russ’ munificence.

In total, with 14.3 passes per game, Westbrook has found Oladipo more than any other teammate. Meanwhile, Victor is scoring 2.2 baskets —and connecting on 1.1 of a made 2.3 three-point field goals per contest— from Westbrook assists.

When considering that Oladipo and Adams are two of the Thunder’s top four scoring options, Russ’ passing value is all the more magnified.

Russ in the clutch

Perhaps the greatest hallmark of Russ’ incredible start has been his absolute crunch-time dominance. Westbrook leads all NBA players to appear in a minimum of four contests in both fourth-quarter scoring (10.1) and overall plus/minus (+4.9).

This factor has been paramount, as eight of Oklahoma City’s twelve wins have been decided by ten-points or less —with three coming in overtime.

Westbrook’s late-game brilliance was on full display Nov. 25 vs. Denver. With the Thunder sitting perilously at 8-8, Russell defied certain defeat by providing 24 final-stanza and overtime points to overcome the stunned Nuggets.

Since this time, Oklahoma City has remained unbeaten.

And as his team shines, even with his understated nature, Russell Westbrook cannot escape the luminous glow of his monumental all-around hegemony.

However, in typical Westbrook fashion, he has done all he can to downplay the moment, recently stating to the New York Times:

“I don’t really care, honestly, I like to win and compete at a high level. I do the same thing every year.”

Except this year is shaping up to be one for the ages.