Moore: Will Russell Westbrook Log a Triple-Double vs. Houston on Christmas?
Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Russell Westbrook
Betting odds: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets
- Spread: Rockets -1.5
- Over/Under: 222.5
- Time: 3 p.m. ET
- TV channel: ABC
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Some day, when Russell Westbrook is an old fashion mogul and the days of him attempting to murder the rim and verbally spitting in reporters’ faces are over, he’ll probably admit how much he pursued triple-doubles in this era.
He’ll grin and tell stories of what the Thunder used to do to help him grab those 10th assists or rebounds. None of this will change the indelible impact he has on the game, how he’s led the Thunder or how he continues to be one of the fiercest NBA stars in history.
We have space in our lives to recognize both things being true: Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles AND Russell Westbrook is a bad mother.
Those triple-doubles do help define him, however. They were not the sole reason he won MVP two years ago — that’s a myth — but they certainly played the biggest role. He will wind up leading all-time in that category by the time he’s done; he trails Oscar Robertson by 65 and will probably tack on 20 more or so by the end of the year.
When Westbrook and the Thunder face the Rockets on Christmas Day, it promises a matchup of two marquee superstars who were once teammates in Harden and Westbrook.
It will also feature two players who are incredible at filling the box score. Both are dangers to log a triple-double as a late present to bettors. Here’s a look at whether Westbrook can hit the double-digit mark in points, rebounds and assists.
I WATCHED ALL THE ROCKETS’ REBOUNDS VS. THE THUNDER AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY ANALYSIS
With how the Rockets play, you’d think that Westbrook would have racked up those triple-doubles. But since Kevin Durant left and Westbrook went into bonkers high-usage mode in 2016-17, Westbrook has faced Houston seven times and hit a triple-double only twice.
Now, getting two triple-doubles in seven games is incredible for most players. But with Westbrook, it shows the difficulty that the Rockets present.
Interestingly, the problem hasn’t been the tougher statistic in assists. Westbrook has averaged 9.3 assists over that span, within range of the necessary threshold. It’s been rebounding that’s limited him.
Westbrook has averaged just 7.5 rebounds per game vs. Houston since 2016-17. That’s striking considering the Thunder model is designed to clear contests for him so he can grab the board.
(This, by the way, is not solely an effort to manipulate statistics. By putting the ball in Westbrook’s hands from the start, you enable those coast-to-coast transition possessions, which put a ton of pressure on the defense. The extra second it takes for a big to rebound and pass to him to start the break matters a lot when you’re talking about a six-second possession.)
Going back and watching the Thunder’s defensive rebounds vs. Houston, I was looking to see if there was any particular tactic they took to try and keep Westbrook off the glass. That wasn’t the case. Instead, there is a pretty basic element in play: how far out the Rockets space the floor.
Last Christmas, Westbrook matched up (according to NBA.com’s tracking data) with Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson for 54 of his possessions, which accounted for 78% of all matchups for Russ. Later in the season, most of his possessions came matched up vs. Harden, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza.
The key is that Westbrook can’t cheat vs. Houston the way he can with other teams. Watch what happens when Westbrook ball-watches for just a second while guarding Gordon last year:
Even when the result is a miss and a potential rebound chance, Westbrook is often having to stay tethered, keeping him from being able to fully crash the glass:
In a late-season game vs. the Rockets, Westbrook had just seven rebounds, and five of those were offensive — several off his own misses.
Houston’s spacing causes major issues for Westbrook being able to crash. He needs possessions to go just this way, essentially, with his man spaced on the weak side, allowing a long rebound to fall to him:
Now, a few words of warning, because I am nothing if not a quibbler with myself.
First off, free throw misses are a huge variable here. The Thunder peel off and let Westbrook get almost every single missed opponent free throw.
It’s an easy one they can count on since most players don’t contest them on the offensive glass. If the Rockets were to have a bad night from the stripe, that could cause mayhem and boost Westbrook’s rebound figures.
The Rockets are shooting 1.9% worse from the stripe this year relative to last season but are also shooting about 5.0% fewer free throws overall compared to last season.
Second, Houston has the second-worst opponent offensive rebound rate in the league. Clint Capela has not been the same dude, and that’s cost them. There might be a chance for Westbrook to rack up those rebounds, especially off his own misses, the way he did last year in that late-season game.
Finally, with Andre Roberson out, the matchups change. Westbrook guarded Harden way more late in the season than he did on Christmas.
That might not necessarily translate to more rebounds, but with how the Rockets ISO and space the floor, if Harden misses and Westbrook’s underneath, his chances go up.
Of course, there’s an effect there, too. Defending Harden more implicitly means more personal fouls, which can limit Westbrook’s minutes.
Finally, there are pretty basic figures. Westbrook is averaging a career-high in rebounds. Take that on the surface, and it’s pretty compelling.
But just as compelling is another simple figure: Houston’s pace. The Rockets play at the second-lowest possession rate in the league. Fewer possessions equal fewer shots equal fewer rebound opportunities. The little slices matter in what will be a narrow margin regardless.
The reality is that, barring injury or a horrific shooting night in which he also doesn’t get whistles, Westbrook will score in double-digits. He does that in his sleep; he’s recorded double-digit scoring in all but one single game this season.
Assists, too, seem likely. Even with OKC’s sluggish offense, Westbrook has recorded double-digit assists in 12 of the 23 games he’s played in, and Houston’s porous defense only helps that case.
Rebounds are the key.
And while there are several ways Westbrook can game his way into a triple-double, with the historic precedent and how he has performed vs. Houston overall, the lean should be toward the very slight under on rebounds and on “no” for the Westbrook triple-double prop.