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Why B/R was entirely wrong in slight of Rockets’ Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Russ vs Middleton

Middleton has been a solid and steady second option for the Milwaukee Bucks, as evident by his consecutive All-Star appearances. He’s also had remarkable shooting numbers this season, as he’s on pace for the rare 50/40/90 club.

But he’s certainly not a top ten player, as he largely disappeared in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals series against the Toronto Raptors. In that series, Middleton averaged 13.7 points, which was nearly fourth on the Bucks, while making just 41.1 percent of his shots. For as much as we’ve heard about Westbrook not making it past the first round of the playoffs of late, he’s had much better averages than Middleton, despite being the worse shooter between the two.

Russ averaged 37.4 points against the Houston Rockets in the 2017 playoffs, 29.3 points against the Utah Jazz in the 2018 playoffs, and 22.8 points against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2019 playoffs. By comparison, Middleton’s averages were 14.5 points, 24.7 points, and 16.9 points, so why aren’t his postseason performances as widely discussed?

If the question was regarding the better 3-point shooter between the two, there wouldn’t be an argument to be made regarding Middleton over Russ, as that’s essentially the only thing he does better than the Houston Rockets star. B/R’s case for Middleton is based heavily on shooting, but by their own title, the list is supposed to be based on the best overall player, which is a much different argument.

Perhaps the better best reflection of the better overall player discussion is player efficiency rating, which is an area where Russ has always fared better than Middleton. But let’s take a look at how the two players rank head-to-head statistically.

Scoring: Westbrook 27.5 points, Middleton 21.3 points
Facilitating: Westbrook seven assists, Middleton 4.1 assists
Rebounding: Westbrook eight rebounds, Middleton 6.2 rebounds

We also have to keep in mind that there was an adjustment period this season for Russ, as B/R pointed out, so how much better would his numbers be if that weren’t the case? The Rockets have played 11 games without Westbrook this season and have gone 6-5 in his absence, which also wasn’t pointed out by B/R. This is important to note, as it reflects overall importance and value to the team, which also factors in to the better overall player.

Although Westbrook has had a “bounce back” year this season, he ‘s topped Middleton in each of the three aforementioned categories for the last seven seasons. Russ has even posting a better true shooting percentage twice, and came within an arms’ reach on two other occasions.

Since Middleton entered the league in 2012-13, he’s averaged a slightly better true shooting percentage than Russ, as Middleton has averaged 56.5 percent compared to Westbrook’s 53.6 percent, which is a margin that one would expect to be much higher considering how often Westbrook’s true shooting metrics get discussed.

Russ has also been asked to do much more than Middleton, as his usage rate has been higher than Middleton’s in each of the last seven years. In fact, Russ led the league in this department twice in the last six seasons. Let’s also not forget that Westbrook is a former MVP winner, and has led the league in scoring twice, which are both feats we likely won’t see from Middleton.

Next. The best and worst Rockets lineups this season

All in all, its unfair to Middleton to even be compared to Westbrook, as the comparison makes him look like he’s not a good player. It’s also disrespectful to Westbrook to not even be considered a top-ten player. It’s unclear what would possess Bleacher Report to do such a thing, but it seems there’s some sort of anti-Rockets slant, as they later provided further confirmation.

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