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Russo Westbrook, A Shooting Foul Magnet

Through the 18 game, Russell - Westbrook 28 points per game, itself is a staggering figure, in a short span of 31.8 minutes, but finish. Nobody had done when logging or even 35 minutes or less per a full season, and help to explain he is currently in a League of its own, measuring every 100 second chance points.The rate of Oklahoma City’s possessions ending with him scoring, fouled, or turning the ball over has never been done before either. His usage rate currently screams, as opposed to sits, at 41.1 percent, and yet his effective and true shooting percentages are hardly different from past seasons. The latter actually a career-high at 55.2 percent.

Any player who has an uptick in usage like Westbrook’s is bound to go through changes in where and how he scores. The percentage of shots devoted to the in-between game, from three feet to the arc, is in line with his career averages, but his three-point rate has lowered and shots around the rim increased.  To no surprise, he’s also attacked off the dribble more. There’s only a slight uptick in pull-up jumpers1, instead more attacks towards the hoop with 10.6 drives per game2 compared to six last season.

Those drives are likely a key reason why Westbrook’s biggest change in where he’s scored from is not from a specific shot location, but from the free throw line. His average of 15.4 free throw attempts per 100 possessions is up from 10.4 last season, more than good enough to lead the league, minimum 400 minutes3 and good enough for seventh-best historically according to Basketball-Reference. Westbrook’s free throw rate has gone from 37 percent in 2013-14 to 45 percent this season.

Free throw attempts and free throw rate are tricky to analyze, though, since each player’s numbers are for different reasons. Hack-a-Shaq strategies boost some players’ attempt totals, others have theirs padded with late-game fouling, fouls not even involving an attempted shot result in free throws when the defense is in the penalty, and some players’ free throw rates are helped or hurt simply by converting or missing more and-1 opportunities than the average player.

So for Westbrook I measured his foul-drawing not by free throw attempts but in drawn shot fouls, via Basketball-Reference4. Even after drawing just one shot foul Sunday night against Dallas, he’s still comfortably ahead of everybody with how many accumulates per 36 minutes at 4.47.

Below are the top five players, minimum 400 minutes played:


It’s just one more scoring-related stat Westbrook’s dominating in, with or without Durant in the lineup5. It could also be just me, but it’s interesting to see Westbrook so far ahead of James Harden, who as of December 29th led the league in total drawn shot fouls6.

It’s also likely the rarest scoring-related stat for a player of Westbrook’s size and position to lead. From 2001 to 2014, the highest drawn shot fouls per 36 a point guard finished with was 3.97 in 2013 by James Harden. If Harden isn’t a point guard to you then the next-best mark came in 2009 by Devin Harris at 3.87. Westbrook’s mark of 4.47 per 36 puts him in the stratosphere of shot foul drawing, joining the primes of Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard, and Amar’e Stoudemire7. Somehow Eddy Curry made the cut, too:

top per 36

This could all very well end up just being fun with numbers from what is a small-ish sample size. After all, Westbrook’s highest drawn shot fouls per 36 prior to this season was 3.20 in 2011, and his usage rate while sharing the floor with Kevin Durant this season has been 31.4 as opposed to 45.6 without him, per NBAwowy.

On the other hand, with Durant recovering from a sprained right ankle it looks like we’ll see more of the latter situation. Westbrook’s sample size without the 2014 MVP will continue to grow, and maybe the same will be said for his torrid start. So far it’s placed him among, if not ahead of everybody else in a variety of scoring-related statistics either this season or in league history. That includes stats like drawing shot fouls history says nobody Westbrook’s size should have business being a part of.

Special thanks to Darryl Blackport for the help with this post.

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