With apologies to Chris Paul, the Western Conference Finals is a showcase for the league’s best point guards. In the playoffs, Steph Curry, the MVP, is averaging 24.8 points and 8.4 assists. He has a slight disadvantage in offensive production compared to Russell Westbrook (25.6 points, 10.8 assists), but even as Curry has slowed down in three-point accuracy, down six percentage points, he still is the league’s most accomplished shot maker.
Steph Curry was a scintillating 45.4% behind the arc in the regular season and in the playoffs he is draining 39% of his threes, a heady number but not a Steph number. Westbrook counters with a dull 32.8% from behind the arc.
Not an efficient scorer, Westbrook is a triple double God and the best rebounding point in the league. His explosiveness is exceptional and cannot be taken away.
Both point guards are expected to thrive in what will be a fast paced, don’t blink or you’ll miss something WCF matchup, the winner getting a trip to the NBA Finals.
Back-to-back MVP’s, leading his team to 73 wins, defending champion and best off the bounce, off the dribble, creating space for spectacular distance bombs scorer, Curry is considered in many quarters to be the best point guard in the league. He is the best scorer, the most efficient shooter, the player always criticized as not this and not that because he doesn’t back players down and post up, nor does he have the talent to guard multiple positions. But his quickness and acumen, his ability to hit a jump shot from anywhere, his driving to the rim whenever he feels like it coupled with a Magic Johnson court vision puts him at the top of the guard class.
But is he better than Westbrook?
|Steph Curry||30.1 points, 6.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds||24.8 points, 8.4 assists, 6.8 rebounds|
|Russell Westbrook||23.5 points, 10.4 assists, 7.8 rebounds||25.6 points, 10.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds|
Westbrook was the second best rebounder on his team in the regular season, trailing Kevin Durant by four-tenths of a point. 7.8 boards for Westbrook. 8.2 rebounds for Durant. Westbrook led the league in assists, 10.4. He averaged 23.5 points in the regular season and is averaging 25.6 points in the playoffs. His explosion is so off the charts, his drives to the rim are as artful as Curry’s magical threes.
Westbrook should be a better defender and his three point shooting accuracy is really bad but he makes plays, his energy is infectious and he has a higher playoff PER that Steph.
But how does it all translate numerically? Does the binary interpretation mean the series is going the Warriors way because Steph is Steph? In the playoffs, neither guard has been the best player on their team. Klay Thompson has been a dominant force on the Warriors and Kevin Durant is at MVP level Durant.
Head to Head Matchup
The Warriors and Thunder played three times in the regular season within a span of a month. The Warriors won all three games. Curry averaged 35 points, 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. His shooting was superlative in the second and third meetings, 58.3% and 48.0%. In the February 27th match-up in Oklahoma, Curry shot 75% from three and his offensive rating was a jaw dropping 143. (118 is an outstanding number, 143 is a brain bleeding what the hell am I looking at?)
|February 27th, Warriors vs. Thunder||Points||3-Point %||Offensive Rating|
Westbrook averaged 25 points, 10.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds vs. the Warriors. The presence of Draymond Green kept Westbrook from a triple double in their head-to heads. Westbrook, having to guard Curry and then be efficient while Klay Thompson was guarding him, never cracked the 40% field goal mark. In Curry’s best games, February 27th and March 3rd, Westbrook was a combined 2-10 (20%) from three. When Curry had an offensive rating of 143, Westbrook’s was 95.
|Face Off 2015-16||Points||Rebounds||Assists|
No one disputes Curry’s MVP or that it should have been unanimous, save LeBron James throwing shade. He had a PER of 31.5. He dropped 30.1 points, dished out 6.9 assists and lead the league in steals. He was a welcomed member of the 50-40-90 club, enshrined as the leagues best shooter. 50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the line. His offensive rating was 124 and his defensive rating was 103. He was second in Real Plus-Minus among point guards and fourth overall. He was sixth in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and it was estimated that Curry added 27.6 wins to the Warriors, the most in the league.
Curry had three 50+ point games, eleven games with 10+ assists and he played 40 minutes four times in the regular season, the benefit of being on a complete team. He made contested shots at the rate other players make uncontested shots, 55.2%. He touched the ball 90.2 times per 36 minutes and he passed the ball 60.0 times per 36 minutes.
|2015-16||Contested Shot Percentage||Touches per/36 min.||Passes per/36 min.||Real Plus-Minus PG Rank||Offensive Rating|
Russell Westbrook was the co-leader of the Thunder two man attack. He had a PER of 22.9. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and grabbed 7.8 rebounds because he is the most athletic guard in the league and perhaps in NBA history.
Westbrook’s shooting has never been his identity. He’s not a good perimeter scorer, making 29.6% of his bombs. He turned the ball over 4.3 times which still remains a Westbrook sore point. His offensive rating on the season was 116 and his defensive rating was 104. He was third in Real Plus-Minus among point guards and sixth overall. He was seventh in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and it was estimated that Westbrook added 22.8 wins to the Thunder, the fourth most in the league.
Russell Westbrook had a 19 rebound game (Magic), a 19 assist game (Clippers), four 40+ games, a back-to back triple double game (three times), and a back-to-back-to back triple double game (twice). He made 47% of his contested shots which is an amazing accomplishment since he is a bad shot taker. He touched the ball 88.1 times per 36 minutes and passed the ball 53.6 times per 36 minutes.
Curry’s numbers are skewed because of the injury. He’s not 100% healthy. Perhaps that accounts for his slippage in the shooting numbers. He’s only making 39.0% of this threes, not 45%. He’s only making 48.6% of his shots, not 50.4%. His biggest decline is in scoring. His 24.8 points per game in the playoffs is well below his regular season 30.1 points. But he is playing less minutes. His assists are way up, 8.4 instead of 6.9, his rebounds are slightly up, his steals are down and he is turning the ball over way too much, 5.5 per game. Accordingly, his playoff PER is 22.7, lower than Westbrook’s 23.4.
Westbrook is having a very good playoff run even though his shooting is hovering around the 40% mark. He still can’t make threes, 32.8% and his rebounds are slightly lower. His contested shots are taking a nose dive, he’s making 37.7% so expect the Warriors to throw Klay Thompson on him and with Thompson’s length it will force Westbrook into even tougher looks.
Westbrook should have a great series because no one on the Warriors can account for his speed but the Warriors can force Westbrook into tough shots that fall short and then grab the rebound with Draymond Geen and Andrew Bogut.
As they were in the regular season, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook will be great in what is billed as an exciting WCF series. But the Warriors team is more experienced, Steph’s dribbles will get everyone open looks, and the Warriors complete team will skew the results of what OKC’s backcourt phenom is able to throw at them game after game.
photo via llananba