Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Russell Westbrook's Usage Rate Explosion

Russell Westbrook has always been a guy who had a high "Usage Rate".  Usage Rate, broadly defined, is the % of your team's plays that you are involved in while you are on the floor.  Even more broadly stated, it measures how much of a ball hog you are.  Because if you are not touching the ball, you are not "using" the possession.

The guys who tend to have the ball all of the time and dribble around wildly and either pass for an assist or shoot are the guys with big Usage.

So, going onto the 2016-17 season, the top 6 all-time ball hogs were:

6.  Carmelo
5. LeBron
4. Allen Iverson
3. Kobe
2. Dwyane Wade
1.  Michael Jordan

Obviously, it helps to be really talented to be on this list, because no matter how much you WANT to possess the ball, if you suck, your coach will eventually not allow you to possess the ball.

This is, of course, why the pairing of Wade and LeBron was such an awful idea.  You generally don't want to pair two super high usage players.  In Year 1 of that experiment, LeBron reduced his Usage 2 points in the regular season and 4+ points in the playoffs, deferring to Wade.  The LeBron/Wade experiment only worked after Wade reduced his Usage, LeBron jacked his back up, and LeBron became a far more efficient player.

Anyway, moving on.  The Holy Grail of seasonal Usage was accomplished by Kobe in 2005-06.  In 2004-05 the Lakers had missed the playoffs with Kobe at his typically high 31.7 Usage.  Kobe went bazonkers (technical term) in 2005-06 and raised his Usage by 7% to an NBA record 38.7%. 

Kobe's ball hogging during the 2005-06 season was so legendary that, after he was criticized for shooting too much in Game 6 of the First Round playoff series against the Suns, Kobe went into full tank mode and REFUSED to shoot in the second half of Game 7, thus insuring a Lakers loss.  One of the most vile and childish acts ever seen from an NBA all-star:

In any event, having witnessed the ballhoggery of the 27 year old Kobe (at the height of his physical powers and his mental selfishness) I really never felt his Usage mark would ever be challenged. 

But then came Russell Westbrook without Kevin Durant.  In 2014-15 Durant was hurt for a substantial stretch of games, and Westbrook went Usage mad, taking his mark up from around a career median of 32 to a shocking 38.4.  Only a late season lack of physical energy kept Russ from reaching Kobe's magical 38.7% mark.  In 2015-16 Durant returned and Westbrook's usage went down to a still-high but rational 31.5 for a season.  Then Durant left.

Russell Westbrook is 28 years old.  So one would imagine that while he might challenge Kobe's mark that it would be at least a close contest.  It has not been a close contest.  Russ is at a 42.1% Usage.  He is shattering Kobe's mark.  No one this season even approaches this level of Usage.  No one in history approaches this level of Usage. 

Westbrook's Usage in 2016-17 has been so high that he has gone from 7th place all-time in career Usage to SECOND.  He trails only Jordan.  This year he has passed such Usage greats as Carmelo, LeBron, Iverson, Kobe, and Wade.  If he has a similar year in 2017-18, Russ will move ahead of Jordan for career Usage %.

What Russ is doing is really a tribute to his mental and physical endurance and his "don't give a fuck" attitude.  I really never thought anyone could combine these three attributes like Kobe.  But Russ has gone Kobe plus 9%. 

To give some perspective, in 2014-15 when LeBron James was playing in the playoffs with Cleveland and basically any decent Cav was hurt, his Usage for the playoff stretch was only 37.6.  In the Finals, when the Cavs were basically running "23 stand" where LeBron held the ball for 23 seconds and then tried to make a play, LeBron's Usage was only 40.8.  LeBron would complain after every game that he knew this was not close to the correct way to play basketball, but he had no real choice if he wanted a chance to win.

Westbrook has registered a 42.1 (versus Finals LeBron 40.8) and Russ has done it for an entire season.  So, Kudos to Russ.  I just hope we never have to see this again.

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