Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Value of Russell Westbrook’s Numbers

Statistics for the 2014-15 NBA season current as of 25 February 2015.

ESPN made an argument this week that the statistics during this NBA season of Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook stack up well to other consensus Most Valuable Player candidates. The two players considered the frontrunners for the NBA MVP award this season are Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Houston’s James Harden. Westbrook has more rebounds per game than both of those players, about the same amount of assists per game as Curry and more than Harden, and more points per game than Curry and only slightly less than Harden.

He also has a higher Player Efficiency Rating than both Curry and Harden. A player’s PER takes into account the good things he does – score, grab rebounds, get assists, block, and steal – and penalises him for the bad things he does – miss shots, turn the ball over, and commit fouls. As Dave Berri has pointed out though a player only has to hit less than a third of his shots to get a net benefit from the shots he takes (which basically any NBA player can do), meaning a player can increase his rating simply by taking more shots.

Russell Westbrook has, over his career, been about an average scorer in terms of efficiency. This year he has been better than that, scoring 1.29 points per possession, though Curry (1.39) and Harden (1.50) have still been somewhat better.  Hence, I think if you adjusted PER to take more account of their respective shooting efficiencies, Curry and Harden are slightly ahead. Curry and Harden both lead Westbrook at this stage in terms of Win Shares per 48 minutes, Wins Produced per 48 minutes, and Real Plus-Minus. Westbrook is having a great season – probably his best to date – but I don’t think he’s the MVP.

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