Advanced statistics and metrics, despite their perception in the outside world, are now cool in the NBA. They are the main tools for making arguments as to why players are good, teams are good, why things work and why they don't. More and more each season, new and more defined metrics become prevalent in today's league.
Chemistry is something however that is not as quantifiable. The best 2 and 3 man combinations are a good source for drawing some conclusions, but before teammates play together or a large sample size can be gathered it's impossible to have a 100 percent perfect measure of how to gauge chemistry.
Russell Westbrook's commitment to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the beginning of August now means he is fully in the driving seat of the team going forward, perhaps even to the point of say in personnel decisions (which would be a unique but wise step for Thunder management).
Now Westbrook has the task of making a roster built for the most part to get the best out of him (and of course, the departed Kevin Durant). The team does have wing depth issues as a result of the obvious departure, but there are still pieces available that can compile a very good team.
So how will each player's chemistry with Westbrook play out this season?
Alex Albrines - B (expectation)
The first of his new teammates, Albrines has had a quiet Olympic campaign with the Spanish national team as playing time has been hard to come by, but this excellent breakdown by Bobby Chancellor provided a glimpse of situations where Westbrook could involve Albrines in similar Thunder sets.
There's simple catch and shoot situations:
Baseline cuts, something used with Andre Roberson to get him on the move:
Coming off screens, plays used consistently for a certain Kevin Durant:
Or the patented drive and kick, a personal favorite that Westbrook has been perfecting:
Whilst it's a seemingly sizeable unknown how Albrines will transition or how much he will play, this isn't a home run team up. If he makes a smooth move to the NBA though, Albrines could become one of Russ' best friends.
Steven Adams - A+
The chemistry between big man and point guard is obvious. There's this:
Westbrook and Adams continue to grow as pick-and-roll partners https://t.co/Iqwab6K0sn— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 12, 2016
Russell Westbrook & Steven Adams pick and roll leads to an alley-oop slam!#Thunder https://t.co/tKqOpN150I— NBA On Def Pen (@NBAOnDefPen) December 19, 2015
The bond between the two off the court is undeniable, and it has grown over time. As Adams game develops, it may only get better. There aren't many players with better chemistry with Westbrook in Thunder history than the current franchise center.
Nick Collison - A+
This might come as surprising, as Collison and Westbrook rarely see floor time together anymore. But the long time teammates have a definite understanding of where each other will be on the floor, as well as their respective abilities with the ball. There's what Westbrook can do:
.@ABC highlight: "Sensational dish from Russell Westbrook to Nick Collison." More @ http://t.co/Ci2Zpo94gBhttps://t.co/evSUw1sgo3— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 8, 2015
Then there's what Collison can do:
Also, don't forget that it was Westbrook and Collison who went together to try and compel Durant to return to OKC. Nick might be a locker room presence and glue guy nowadays, but Hair Jordan can still ball when called upon.
Josh Huestis - C+
Huestis is not the finished article and has played only 55 minutes in his NBA career. In fact, he's played 7 minutes and 48 seconds with his franchise player, per Basketball Reference.
The former Stanford product showed promise though in his brief 5 game tenure in 2015-16 on both ends of the floor, hitting nice shots from the perimeter and showing some incredible defensive promise:
Josh Huestis is proving that he does it on both sides of the ballhttps://t.co/Udurj9UYOH— Thunder Nation (@_ThunderNation) March 30, 2016
Not to mention this terrific stop of Kawhi Leonard:
Just @jhuestis shutting down some dude named Kawhi Leonard pic.twitter.com/6uXGvF5kpw— Brian Crosby (@BrianCrosby4) April 13, 2016
But it's his offensive work that'll be important to his chemistry with Westbrook, and if he can replicate a small sample size of nice deep shooting into something consistent, he can be an important asset:
Back to back threes for Josh Huestis. Thunder hanging around. Idk, man. https://t.co/ticnDmZe9w— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) April 7, 2016
However Huestis has not shown over a large period of time that he can do that, so he'll have to keep taking his chances and develop consistency if he wants to make an impact on an NBA level. The promise is there though.
Ersan Ilyasova - B (expectation)
Realistically Ilyasova should fill a similar void that Serge Ibaka played during his Oklahoma City tenure, offensively speaking. The Turkish forward is a good but streaky shooter who relies on confidence to get himself going from midrange and the perimeter.
He's a career 37 percent three point shooter, and if Oklahoma City can restore his confidence from deep, he should be able to match Ibaka's career 36 percent rate. He statistically shoots better with more attempts, and he should get them on a team that will require his talents from the perimeter. His defensive issues are an obvious concern, but if he can replicate his 41 percent shooting from three that he produced in Orlando in the second half of the season he will be a handy Westbrook outlet.
Enes Kanter - A+
The bromance is going strong if Twitter over the summer is anything to go by. The MVP of Twitter Summer League, Enes Kanter (or Gülen, if his name change is to be confirmed) is certainly enjoying his time in Oklahoma City. Daily tweets at his joy of being apart of the Thunder and Oklahoma City community are constant reminders of his love and affection for the city he calls home now.
He and Westbrook share a unique on-court chemistry, and have become good friends off it as well. On court, it can be simple as setting a nice screen:
When 2 rookies are asked to contain a Westbrook-Kanter P&R... #Spurs #Thunder https://t.co/7sux6sTVcv— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) April 26, 2016
Or how Kanter finishes so well from Westbrook's tidy passing:
Russell Westbrook strips Stephen Curry, pushes it & goes behind-the-back to Kanter for the layup!— NBA On Def Pen (@NBAOnDefPen) February 28, 2016
(Via @clippittv) pic.twitter.com/i0ZhQ8KewC
It can also be their simple yet devastating pick and roll:
Russell Westbrook @Enes_Kanter 'i boyalı alanda harika besliyor. Kanter'den klas bitiriş! https://t.co/d2r1X8vN2W— Yarısaha Basket (@YarisahaBasket) April 24, 2016
No matter how it's sliced, Kanter and Westbrook shape up as an important combination. The only question now is if they run in the second unit together, or if Kanter is pushed into the starting line up for next season. Westbrook loves his guy, and campaigned for him to be sixth man of the year and was unhappy when it wasn't given to him.
Russell Westbrook with high praise for Enes Kanter. Says his teammate should've been sixth man of the year. #Thunder pic.twitter.com/zvDZEEGYVd— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) April 24, 2016
Mitch McGary - B
McGary becomes a bit of an unknown, as the question remains whether he will be on the roster on opening night. The big man has had his difficulties staying healthy, but he's also had drug issues that mean the team may trade him for a fresh start before the season starts.
On the roster, McGary shapes up as a reserve big who is almost an Enes Kanter-lite. Great offensive player with potential who struggles mightily on the defensive end. In his rookie season McGary was roasted by opponents defensively, but put up great numbers on the other end.
Players like McGary who can screen and roll are always of value to a great pick-and-roll guard like Westbrook, the two questions now that remain are not only will he be on the roster, but will he be healthy enough to take his chance if gets one.
Anthony Morrow - A
Morrow is a world class sharpshooter who for some reason just cannot get a consistent run in any team he has played for. A terrific glue guy, teammate and something of a cult hero to his teams' fans, his sporadic play killed his percentages last season. In 2014-15 he shot 43 percent from deep on 4.4 attempts per game, but that dropped to 39 percent on 3 attempts last season.
The perimeter hitman has a limited arsenal, but when given the chance it can be fully utilized by a drive and kick specialist like Westbrook.
1st qtr on @FSOklahoma: catch&shoot three from Anthony Morrow, assist from Russell Westbrook. #ThunderBasketball pic.twitter.com/f263i704NC— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 17, 2015
Victor Oladipo - C (expectation)
The most promising news around this partnership was revealed in the light of Westbrook's extension, when news broke that Westbrook had invited Oladipo to workout with him in Los Angeles during the offseason. The bonding of the potential new starting backcourt is clear.
Their fit together remains to be seen. Defensively they could be a monster when engaged, and their overall athleticism together is truly frightening. Westbrook is a 30 percent career three point shooter, whilst Oladipo is slightly below league average at 33 percent. This is a promising statistic though:
Victor Oladipo shot 60% on open field goals last season, better than any other player in the NBA per @VantageSports @dtdpodcast— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) June 27, 2016
Without Durant though, there will be less floor spacing and ongoing lineups are a big question. If Billy Donovan can figure that out it moves this rating up, but for now it is unproven how the two will play together.
Cameron Payne - A
Their dancing together practically makes this an A+ but their combined defensive struggles and fit together on that end drop it slightly. However Westbrook showed renewed effort particularly defending bigger players and this gives hope to his future on that end. If he doesn't take the James Harden route to defensive leadership, he should be fine.
Payne's 12.2mpg last season should certainly increase and he showed promise, particularly as a spot up shooter. In 15 games across January where he played regularly, Payne averaged 17.3mpg and shot 39 percent from deep on almost 3 attempts per game. That sort of production is something to aim for, if he can do that we get to see more dancing. And nobody is going to dislike that.
Andre Roberson - B+
Westbrook counts the perimeter swingman as one of his best friends, and their on court chemistry has improved over time. Their on-court relationship showed significant leap in the postseason, when Roberson developed offensive consistency and confidence against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.
Billy Donovan began using him as a power forward in small lineups and it's expected he'll spend more time at the 3 this season to balance out a roster that is light in the position. He was used as a screener to involve him more in the offense and so opposing defenses couldn't ignore him, finding plenty of success doing so.
Roberson's improvement as a cutter this season has also made him more dangerous, as this play became a favorite of theirs as the season continued.
Domantas Sabonis - D+ (expectation)
This is a rating that will take some time. It is expected that Sabonis could impress enough early during Mitch McGary's suspension to secure himself regular rotation minutes. However the Lithuanian forward is an unknown quantity on an NBA level yet, and chemistry will take time with Westbrook as he adapts to the NBA and his new team.
However, if any offensive juggernaut can get something out of Sabonis and maximize his offensive talents, it will be Westbrook. In recent years he has learned how best to play with his teammates and get the most out of them, and this should be the same with Sabonis. This will take time, but there's no doubting Westbrook will likely figure it out with a player so immensely talented like his new forward.
Kyle Singler - C
Singler has been an utter failure since his trade from the Detroit Pistons as part of the Reggie Jackson package. After a promising start where he hit 37 percent of his threes (but only 33 percent overall), 2015-16 was an utter disaster. Players and particularly Westbrook would create open shots for Singler, but they just wouldn't fall.
The pressure got the better of Singler and he finished with 31 percent perimeter shooting, horrible numbers compared to the 38 percent he shot from three prior to last season. He'll likely get another opportunity this season to show what he can do thanks to the five year, $25 million deal he signed last summer.
But make no mistake, it's his last chance to make the most of what Westbrook and co can do for him otherwise he'll remain the butt of jokes until he's run out of town for good.
Westbrook now goes into a season with a team built for his talents. Whether he can make use of them to enough wins to mount a serious Playoff and MVP charge remains to be seen, but great pieces remain in place for him to try. Will 2016-17 be the year of Russell Westbrook like Las Vegas is predicting?