It might not come as a huge shock to you, but the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook is currently the best penetrator in the NBA. What is a bit surprising is just how much time he spends “at the rim” and how infrequently he requires assistance to get into that position.
According to HoopData, in 2010-11 the average NBA player attempts 2.2 shots per game from point blank range, making 1.4 of them (63% FG), with just over half of the makes (51.2%) coming off of an assist from a teammate. Among guards, the number of attempts and makes falls to 1.7 and 1.0 respectively (60% FG), with 37.1% of makes coming from a teammate’s assist.
In terms of attempts at the rim, 12 of top 29 (I used a cutoff 4.5 attempts/game) in the NBA this season are guards. Other than Westbrook, the league’s best playmakers attempt between 4.5 (Deron Williams) and 6.2 (Dwyane Wade) shots from point-blank range per game, connecting at a clip of 57-60%. Of this group, there are only four others with an assist rate somewhere in the 20s (actually three: Tyreke Evans, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams; but I bent the rule for Tony Parker, who’s at 30.5%), which means that less than three out of every 10 shots made at the rim by that player is directly attributable to an assist from a teammate.
Of this quartet, the numbers most favor Tyreke Evans, who make 58.9% of his 6 attempts per game at the rim and is “assisted” on just 22.6%. D-Will gives a good account of himself as well, hitting 58.8% of his 4.5 attempts per game, with an assist rate of 26%. The remaining two, Parker (5.8 ATT, 60% FG, 30.5 A%) and Wade (6.2 ATT, 54.7%, 27.6 A%), aren’t not bad themselves, though they fall short of the uppermost tier.
Now, given the increased physicality at the rim and the shot attempt forfeited as a result of each trip to the free throw line, free throw attempts (I don’t have info on how many fouls occurred “at the rim”, so we’ll use total FTA for each player) are another important factor to consider here. The best combo in terms of maximizing both free throw attempt and percentage is D-Will (6.9 FTA, 85.6%), with Wade next based on volume of attempts (9.2 FTA, 72.4%), with Evans (5 FTA, 74.7%) and Parker (3.7 FTA, 79.4%) more or less even.
Now, given all of this, the league averages, as well as the performances of some of the league’s best in these areas, Westbrook’s performance in terms of getting to the rim/free throw line (the aggressiveness index? Huh. I may need to build this!) has been nothing short of jawdropping. In 37 minutes per game (everyone else is in the 34-38 range), Westbrook’s averaging 6.7 field goal attempts at the rim (more than 3xthe league average!), making 57.9% of these attempts and requiring an assists from a teammate on a silly 18.6% of his makes. Of the top 29 in attempts, only two guys, Evans and D-Will, are within 9% of that! And in terms of free throws, Westbrook’s been every bit as amazing, attempting an awesome 9.1 per game and knocking them down at an 88.6% clip.
Not sure if I’m the first to say it, but for my money Westbrook’s leapfrogged every lead guard in the NBA with the exception of Deron Williams and Chris Paul, and I’m hard-pressed to name six backcourt players that are better right now.
What’s the takeaway here? For all the “up-and-coming” talk, Russell Westbrook is already here, and he’s dominant.