NBA fans and analyst who watch the NBA almost universally believe that Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook is one of, if not the best player when it comes to driving towards the basket. Last week basketball analysis website bballbreakdown.com posted an analysis suggesting that Westbrook, in fact, is not good at driving to the rim. The video in it’s entirety can be seen below:
Before I get to critiquing the video’s author and website founder’s – Coach Nick – argument, it is important to note that the first part of the analysis is incredibly valuable. Examining Westbrook’s field goal percentage on different types of jumps is fascinating, and it does showcase flaws in Russ’s game, but that’s about the only place the video is valuable whatsoever.
First, it seems odd that such a knowledgable basketball mind would look at his field goal percentage around the rim rather than solely drives. This is alarming, moreover, because all Coach Nick refers to throughout the entire video is the field goal percentage off of drives. Thus, he uses a percentage unrelated to his subject of analysis to prove his actual argument.
Secondly, Coach Nick’s usage of the archaic “field goal percentage” stat is lazy and unexplanatory, especially when other data is freely available. As he so dutifully notes, Westbrook scores a lot on free throws off of drives. I did the basic math, when you calculate free throws in addition to weighting three-point shots differently, you get what is called “true shooting percentage.” The formula is below:
Essentially, what true shooting percentage does is add the value of each type of shot (three-pointer, two-pointer, and free throw) into the field goal percentage statistic. This, therefore, provides a unarguably better estimate to shot value than field goal percentage.
Consequently, when the math is complete, Westbrook’s true shooting percentage on drives is 58.85%. This would make Russ’s efficiency on drives as ranking better than a LeBron James (58.8%) shot and nearly as efficient as a Klay Thompson (59.7%) one. Now that seems unfair, because LeBron and Klay are both allowed added value for three-point shots, something Westbrook cannot access solely from drives to the hoop. What this means, essentially, is the Thunder star’s shot when driving to the rim is nearly as valuable as any shot at any given time – three pointer or two pointer – that Klay Thompson shoots.
With that said, such a comparison is not measuring apples to apples. Let’s just look at true shooting percentage, assist percentage (the percent of assists such player has for his team while on the court), and turnover percentage (the percent of turnovers such player has for his team while on the court) off of drives. Below is a comparison of the true shooting percentages on drives from some of the best drivers in the NBA:
Note: Stephen Curry is included on this chart even though he averages three less drives per game than the rest of the players named. During the playoffs, when he was forced to drive more, his true shooting percentage was 51.43%, assist percentage was 5.4%, and turnover percentage was 13.1%.
This leads us to his discussion of Reggie Jackson, whom Coach Nick infers is better at driving than Westbrook because of Andre Drummond’s putbacks, this is frankly laughable. Looking at the numbers above, Russell Westbrook is undoubtedly a better scorer and passer off of drives than Jackson, and it is not even close. Westbrook has a 4.09% higher true shooting percentage and a 2.8% higher assist percentage than Jackson does. However, more importantly, comparing putbacks on the Pistons and Thunder is unfair, as Andre Drummond attempts significantly more putbacks than either Enes Kanter or Steven Adams.
Now, using the data from this chart, let’s examine Coach Nick’s contention that Westbrook does not pass to open teammates. Out of the players listed, Westbrook has the sixth highest assist percentage on drives, and fifth highest amongst point guards.
Moreover, Coach Nick then infers that the reason players like Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters shoot low percentages is, again, because Westbrook does not pass to them. Using NBA.com’s player tracking data, however, suggests that his contention is false.
|Player Name||General Field Goal Percentage||Field Goal Percentage When Assisted By Russell Westbrook||Is Westbrook Their Lead Assist Generator|
When looking at five Thunder players during the 2015-16 season – Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka – every one of them had a higher field goal percentage when assisted by Westbrook, the latter of whom was the lead assist generator in every case. Consequently, Coach Nick’s argument about Russ’s refusal to pass to the open man is beyond ridiculous, and not supported whatsoever by statistics.
Thus, the central argument Coach Nick makes about Westbrook’s driving ability is exaggerated to such an extent that it looses its explanatory value. The first seven minutes of the video, which referenced a lack of efficiency on certain shots Westbrook takes while driving due to improper footwork, was absolutely brilliant. However, due to Coach Nick’s exaggeration of Westbrook’s problems in the last five minutes of the video, his central argument appears to be completely ridiculous.
Going back to the chart comparing NBA players’ true shooting percentage, assist percentage, and turnover percentage off of drives, Russell Westbrook’s driving ability is clearly elite. He is inarguably not the most efficient player when driving to the rim, nor the best at it, as LeBron James and James Harden hold the discussion for those titles. But equally unarguable, is that Westbrook’s deadly combination of scoring and passing off of drives result in his placement as a top-five driver in the association.