Without question, the vibes with the Lakers and Russell Westbrook are exponentially better this season than last. It certainly would be near impossible for them to have been worse than they were at the end of the year, particularly after his exit interview.
But it would be unfair to simply call this season better than last. Westbrook has embraced his role coming off the bench, which is no small matter, and providing a more positive impact this season than last year, undoubtedly.
But does he deserve to be the Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner, as he is so far?
Based on vibes and maybe even a little bit of the eye test, it feels like Russell Westbrook has been better this year versus last. But the numbers don’t bear that out.
Looking at per-36-minute numbers, which helps account for the drop in playing time this season, Russ is averaging fewer points, more assists and marginally more rebounds on the year. However, he’s doing it on far, far worse efficiency, shooting 40.6% from the field, 27.5% from the three-point line and 67.2% from the free throw line.
His true shooting percentage of 48.3% is the lowest of his career. His turnover percentage is the highest of his career. His win shares per 48, an indication of how many wins a player contributes per 48 minutes with the league average being .100, is at a career-low .008.
And yet, according to our friends at DraftKings, he’s the favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year, which is hard to believe. Part of that is an indication of how uncertain the rest of the field is. Malcolm Brogdon, who we’ll discuss momentarily, is second at +425 odds, well behind Russ at +110 odds.
After them comes Jordan Poole at +475, a player who would make perhaps the most sense to be the frontrunner but he’s at 19 games started and counting due to injuries and his odds might indicate that possibility he may start too many games to qualify.
There’s then a big jump to Bennedict Mathurin, who has sped directly into the rookie wall, at +900. Norman Powell comes in at +1400 odds but has been little more than a volume scorer this season and hasn’t even done that enough. After that, you’re looking at longshots like Bojan Bogdanovic (+2500), Malik Monk (+3500) or Jose Alvarado (+20000), among others.
So, really, this feels like a competition between Brogdon and Westbrook. And if you compare the two, there isn’t much debate. Brogdon is scoring more on a per-36-minute basis and what he lacks in terms of playmaking and rebounding, he makes up for in efficiency, dwarfing Russ’ shooting numbers across the board.
The risk with betting on Brogdon is his injury history, but the Celtics have done a good job of limiting Brogdon’s minutes as he’s averaging the fewest in his career. He missed four games earlier in the season and has only had two other games missed. So far, it seems like smooth sailing.
On the flip side, there’s also the fact that Russ could be traded at seemingly any minute and could have his role drastically change. Would he be as willing to come off the bench for the Pacers or Hornets or basically any other team?
Awards are narrative based, which is the strongest argument Russ has and a compelling one, but from a statistical standpoint, Brogdon, who is in action on TNT tonight against the Mavericks, has a clear advantage. Take a stab at Brogdon at +425 odds and see if the stats overcome the narrative soon enough.