- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Russell Westbrook drove the baseline, had the ball poked out and recovered it in the corner — only to chuck a pass over a sea of bodies when he collided with teammate Bradley Beal. The careless throw went right to a defender, spurring a three-on-one fastbreak for the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The turnover was the start of a sequence in which Westbrook committed three in the span of little more than a minute of game time — just one part of an overall dreadful night in which the Washington Wizards guard committed eight miscues in Tuesday’s loss. Seven of the miscues came in the first half.

In his first season with the Wizards, Westbrook has continued to play with the same sort of reckless, in-your-face style that can wreak havoc on opposing defenses — particularly as the 32-year-old has gotten healthier after an early-season quad injury. 

But the aggressiveness, at times, has its drawbacks. With five turnovers per game, Westbrook again leads the league in that category. If he finishes the year atop that stat category, it will be for the fourth time in his career. Since the 2014-15 season, Westbrook has finished no lower than third in turnovers each year.

But Westbrook is averaging a career-high turnover rate of 14 this season. That means of an estimated 100 plays, Westbrook turns it over 14 times. 

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said he would like to see the number lower. 

“In the league, top-10 turnover guys, you’d take every single one of them,” Brooks said. “They make a lot of plays for their team, and Russell’s no different. He’s averaging one more turnover than I would like — he should be in the high threes.”

As Brooks noted, those high on the turnover list include a slew of star players. Trae Young, James Harden and Luka Doncic are the next three behind Westbrook, all fantastic guards. It makes sense, too, that some of the league’s most ball-dominant guards also commit the most turnovers. 

But Westbrook’s high total this season is especially interesting because his overall usage rate is his lowest since 2009, his second year in the NBA. Westbrook is handling the ball less, taking four fewer shots than last year and is still committing more turnovers than usual. 

Early on, Westbrook was hampered by a quad injury that limited his explosiveness. The former MVP, though, has looked better as the season has progressed, with his efficiency increasing. The turnover average, though, remains relatively the same.

In Westbrook’s first 10 games of the season, a span in which Westbrook missed weeks because of the injury, the point guard averaged five turnovers per game. Since Jan. 31, the night Westbrook scored a season-high 41 against the Brooklyn Nets, he’s committed 4.9 turnovers per game over a 16-game stretch.

Westbrook downplayed the issue Wednesday. He noted he’s still adjusting to new teammates, adding he benefited from years of continuity in Oklahoma City.

He said he could “live with” the types of turnovers that happen when a tricky pass bounces off a teammate’s hand.

“Since I’ve been in the league, there’s been sometimes where there’s some bad turnovers, but I know I’m trying to make the right play,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, it don’t bother me. There are some that are bad, but some where I’m trying to make the right play. … I’ve got to do a better job of picking those spots as the game goes along.” 

To Westbrook’s credit, he seems to be able to adapt over the course of a game. On Tuesday, he had just one turnover after halftime — following in line with a season-long trend. Of Westbrook’s 129 total turnovers this season, 75 have come in the first half.

In other words, 58% of Westbrook’s turnovers happen in the first two quarters. 

Westbrook said he can figure out how teams are guarding him as the game progresses. 

“There’s a lot of things that go into it, which I will have to learn and figure out,” Westbrook said. “Guys that like the ball, running, spacing. That stuff will change and that’s an easy fix for me.”

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