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Sports Medley: Ball Hog Russell Westbrook is no MVP
by Tony Medley
When Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook had a triple-double on
Thursday, February 26, scoring 39 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists,
the world of talking heads went berserk. Many said he should be a prime
candidate for MVP. Others compared him to Michael Jordan. I said, ďThere
goes Westbrook again.Ē What the talking heads failed to mention,
probably because they didnít look, was that Westbrook took 38 shotsÖand
only made 12! Thatís a woeful shooting percentage of 31.5%. The shooting
percentage for the rest of the team was 43% in that game. But his
selfishness is made even more glaring if you look further. Westbrook
played 42 minutes for his 38 shots. Thatís almost one shot per minute.
But it gets worse. In a basketball game each team has possession of the
ball approximately half the time. That means that Oklahoma City had
possession of the ball for only 21 of Westbrookís 42 minutes of playing
time. That translates to approximately one Westbrook shot every 30
seconds. Since thereís a 24 second clock in the NBA, it means that
Westbrook took at least one shot every time Oklahoma City had
possession, an astonishing statistic.
But, wait, you say. How did he get 11 assists as such a ball hog? To
explain one must go back to the 1960s and another ball hog, Cincinnati
Royals guard Oscar Robertson. Robertson led the league in assists six
times and was always among the leaders in points scored per game,
generally finishing second to Wilt Chamberlain. But the reason why
Robertson got a lot of assists was that, unlike Magic Johnson, Robertson
was always looking for the shot. He would dribble and dribble and
dribble despite double and triple team defenses. As the shot clock ran
down if he was physically unable to take a shot, he had to pass off.
When the player he passed off to made a basket (he would have to shoot
because the shot clock was running down to zero), Robertson got an
assist. It was almost inevitable that if Robertson didnít take a shot,
he would get an assist if they scored because instead of passing the
ball around to find a man for the open shot like the Ď70s New York
Knicks, the Royals just stood around watching Robertson dribble.
Thatís the same way with Westbrook. Heís always looking for a shot and
always dribbling all over the court. If he canít get a shot off, heís
almost certain to get an assist if Oklahoma City scores because the
player to whom he passes will have to shoot quickly to beat the clock.
The second thing that the talking heads donít mention when nominating
Westbrook as a potential MVP is that Oklahoma City lost the game! The
next night Westbrook had a similar performance. He scored 40 points
while taking 32 shots. But, again, Oklahoma City lost the game. Although
his shooting percentage was a little better, 43.75%, thatís still below
the league average of roughly 45%, and the rest of the team shot at a
50% rate in that game. So if Westbrook had taken fewer shots and passed
off occasionally to let his better-shooting teammates take more shots in
both games, itís arguable that Oklahoma City would have scored more
points and won. This is an MVP? How valuable is a player who hogs the
ball, takes a lot of shots, and scores a lot of points if his team
The test for a basketball player is whether or not he makes the players
around him better. Boston Celtics center Bill Russell did and was the
biggest winner in basketball history. Russellís main opponent, Wilt
Chamberlain (who constantly led the league in scoring), didnít make
those around him better, and he was on only one championship team until
he played under coach Bill Sharman with the Lakers and they won the
title with Wilt passing and rebounding instead of shooting all the time.
Michael Jordan did make those around him better and the Bulls won title
after title. Russell Westbrook clearly does not make those around him
better. Heís no MVP, regardless of what some isolated numbers might