In his fourth season as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star point guard, Russell Westbrook has struggled mightily. His free-throw percentage is at a career low and he only managed to score in double figures twice this past year. The Lakers were criticized for not noticing that Westbrook’s game was declining before they traded him on draft night last June, but it should have been obvious considering how many different players are playing well right now.

Russell Westbrook’s decline has been happening for a while and the Lakers should have seen it coming. With the recent news that Russell Westbrook is not interested in re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, many people are wondering if he will be signing with his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Read more in detail here: nba rumors: lakers.

Russell Westbrook's Decline Has Been Happening for a While and the Lakers Should Have Seen It Coming

Russell Westbrook fired up a deep-hole drilling rig just when you thought he’d struck rock bottom. Westbrook scored eight points on 2-of-14 shooting in the Los Angeles Lakers’ defeat to the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 12. That came after a six-point, 2-of-12 effort in a defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies. Is it surprising that a former NBA MVP performs so poorly? Yes, it is. But here’s the thing: we should’ve seen this one coming.

Westbrook has averaged 7.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 20 percent shooting in his previous three games (he was 4-of-14 in a Jan. 7 win over the Atlanta Hawks). He’s made none of his six 3-point attempts. The good news is that in that time, Westbrook has just four turnovers. Westbrook, on the other hand, is shooting 29.3 percent with 12 missed three-pointers in five games in January (and the next make will be his first of 2022). However, the patterns were still visible. They were masked by the national media’s triple-double fixation.

Taking a closer look at Russell Westbrook

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The graphic on the front of the “Russell Westbrook is inefficient” card has almost worn away. That’s hardly surprising, given that Westbrook’s career has become the unofficial front line in the NBA’s ongoing analytics vs. eye test battle.

Westbrook is — and always will be — a high-usage player who dominates with his athleticism and willpower. His usage rate was a record 41.7 percent during his MVP season in 2016–17.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it worked. Kevin Durant was no longer among us. Westbrook was going to defer to whom? Victor Oladipo, anyone? With 10.2 shots in 21.3 minutes per game, Enes Freedom (then Enes Kanter) gave Westbrook a fight for his money.

That season, Westbrook put up enormous statistics for the Thunder. Oklahoma City, which was expected to suffer a big decline, won 47 games, with Westbrook leading the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game. He also averaged 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, making him just the second player in NBA history to have a triple-double season. In his once-exclusive club, Oscar Robertson had company.

Despite the stereotype that Westbrook is inefficient, he was quite productive in 2016–17.

But here’s the thing: his degeneration had already begun.

During his MVP season, Russell Westbrook’s influence dropped.

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Though Win Shares change depending on injuries (and pandemic-shortened seasons), a player’s Win Shares per 48-minute ratio might be instructive.

According to Basketball Reference, the typical player has a WS/48 of around.100. Russell Westbrook’s WS/48 during his MVP season was.224, which was good for 10th best in the NBA. During his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, Durant led the NBA in hitting.278.

However, it was a season following Westbrook’s career-high record in WS/48. In 2015–16, he finished seventh in the NBA with a.245 shooting percentage, behind only Kevin Durant’s.270 and Stephen Curry’s.318.

Westbrook’s WS/48 has dropped over the last five seasons. Not even a tenth of a percent. In each of the previous five years, he has declined dramatically.

Here are Westbrook’s WS/48 numbers, starting with his MVP season (remember,.100 is an average player’s predicted number):

  • .224 in 2016–17
  • .166 in 2017–18
  • .124 in 2018–19
  • .098 in 2019–20
  • .075 in 2020–21
  • .041 in 2021–22 (through Jan. 12, 2022)

In three seasons, Westbrook went from being more than twice as good as the average player to being below average. He’s entering the “why in the holy blue hell did Sam Presti commit to a player option for $47.1 million for 2022–23” region now that he’s 33 years old.

Why did so many people overlook the deteriorating trend?

Russell Westbrook's decline has been happening for several seasons. That didn't stop the Lakers from rolling the dice on the fading superstar.

Russell Westbrook's decline has been happening for several seasons. That didn't stop the Lakers from rolling the dice on the fading superstar. Russell Westbrook has been on the slide for some seasons now. The Lakers didn’t let it stop them from taking a chance on the fading great. | Getty Images/Katelyn Mulcahy

Russell Westbrook continued to impress statistically despite his decreased effect. He averaged a triple-double three times in four years, from 2017–18 to 2020–21. He turned one of athletics’ rarest events into something as mundane as a trip to the supermarket.

Westbrook has the required cover for his decline since many in the NBA media obsess with a player having three double-digit scores on the same stat sheet.

His teams, on the other hand, were not improving. Despite adding Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the Thunder only improved by one win in 2017–18 and lost in the first round of the playoffs despite having home-court advantage.

After one season with OKC, Anthony decided to leave. In 2018–19, George and Westbrook led the Thunder to 49 victories. In a five-game first-round struggle, Damian Lillard, the sixth seed, put an end to the Westbrook era in Oklahoma City. Westbrook reunited with James Harden for a 44–28 record and a second-round exit with the Houston Rockets in 2019–20.

After emerging from the play-in tournament, Westbrook and Bradley Beal led the Washington Wizards to a 34–38 record and a first-round defeat last season. To reach so far, it required a 17–6 sprint finish.

The Lakers have a 21–21 record this season. Los Angeles is trying to stay out of play-in territory, but they’re not going to miss the party.

The proof was there in front of my eyes. Because of the stack of stat sheets, we couldn’t see it.

Basketball Reference provided the statistics.

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RELATED: LeBron James Refuses to Address the Serious Concerns About Russell Westbrook’s Lakers Fit

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