In fact, since Kevin Durant was shelved with pain in his surgically repaired foot, Westbrook is averaging an Oscar Robertson-like 34.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.6 assists, and doing it only 36.5 minutes of action. And over the three games he’s played with a broken face, he’s averaging 41, 12 and 11.
However, those numbers might not be the most impressive. In the approximately 620 possessions Westbrook has played since Durant went down, he’s used 256 possessions shooting, turned the ball over 41 times and set teammates up for 193 scoring attempts. All told, that means Westbrook is intimately involved with the results of an astounding 79 percent of the Thunder’s offensive plays while he’s on the floor.
To restate, while Westbrook is on the floor, nearly four out of every five plays have his fingerprints, and if anything, this understates his effect given the times a defense collapses against a Westbrook attack, leading to an open shot from one or two extra passes.
This percentage of involvement, which I’ve named “True Usage” allows for examination of a player’s overall role in a an offense, and it consists of three main inputs – shooting, playmaking and turnovers. Over this recent non-Durant span, Westbrook is almost literally off the charts in all three. For comparison’s sake, here are the top 15, including Westbrook’s own full season numbers, in each category for the season prior to Sunday’s games (minimum 1500 possessions played):
Westbrook’s line over that span? 41.3 percent – 31.1 percent, – 6.6 percent. For the season, the player with the next largest True Usage is LeBron James at 57 percent with Kobe Bryant, John Wall and Chris Paul rounding out the top five, all involved with between 54.4 and 56 percent of their teams’ plays while on the floor.
Even the one negative, turnovers, is not as bad as it first appears. One of the main benefits of combining scoring and playmaking in one metric is the ability to make a more apples-to-apples comparison of players’ turnover propensities. More traditional turnover percentage as listed on nba.com or basketball-reference.com is derived by comparing turnovers to scoring attempts. In other words, a great way to appear less turnover prone is simply to shoot more, while playmaking for others can only cause an increase in that percentage.
By measuring turnover relative to scoring AND playmaking attempts, the players who spend the most time with the ball in their hands, the point guards and other primary offense-initiators aren’t penalized for their roles. According to this “True Turnover %,” Wesbrook has only turned the ball over on 8.2 percent of the possessions in which he’s been involved. Though well short of the elite high usage players (Paul, for example is at 6 percent, LaMarcus Aldridge – always a low turnover player by this measure – is at 6.1 percent, and Al Jefferson turns the ball over only 4.4 percent of possessions he uses) this is still better than league average of 8.9 percent and is basically in line with his full season average. So while the raw number of turnovers looks bad, in relation to how much he’s being asked to do, he’d be forgiven for coughing it up even a little more often.
It’s hard to put Westbrook’s numbers in full historical context. The SportVU tracking data on which the playmaking side of the analysis is based has only been available for the past two seasons. But Westbrook himself led the league at around 58 percent True Usage a season ago, and some back of the envelope estimation puts Steven Nash’s MVP seasons for the Suns in the neighborhood of 65 percent (based on some educated guesses about the rate at which teammates converted assist chances into points on those Suns teams). So it’s probably fair to say no player in recent NBA history as played as big a role in his team’s offense as Westbrook is right now.