Russell Westbrook is, if nothing else, a statistical marvel. In 2017 he became only the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double. He’s now done so four times, quadrupling even Oscar Robertson on that front. But when any player puts up historic numbers without winning in the postseason, he is going to face accusations of stat-hunting. Westbrook has heard such claims for years, but they’ve rarely come from his fellow players. On Monday, though, Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns hinted at it in an interview with streamer Adin Ross.
“He definitely gets stats,” Towns said. “He chases stats. But I think he’s a hell of a player, though. I don’t care what anyone says — you know how hard it is to get a triple-double? You know how hard it is? And he play hella hard. I just think that sometimes he plays too quick. He tries to do too much.”
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Towns obviously attempts to walk back his words slightly in the interview by praising Westbrook, but one of his more notable fellow players didn’t think he did a good enough job of it. When Draymond Green saw what Towns said, he took to social media to chastise his fellow star.
“I once watched from the bench due to us beating the Twolves ass and he was in the game down 20 with 2 mins to go.” Green wrote. “Come on man. Stop talking to people about the “bros” and yelling this is a “brotherhood”. SMH.”
Towns naturally saw what Green said and fired back, arguing that he wasn’t coaching the Timberwolves and doesn’t control when he is and isn’t on the floor. Eventually, he praised Green for his role in Golden State’s dynasty and moved on, but even if he violated some sort of pact among players or stars by saying Westbrook “chases stats,” it’s worth considering whether or not he has a point.
Westbrook was asked Monday about balancing expectations from his teammates, his coaching staff and fans and gave a very illuminating answer. The full 90-second response, in which Westbrook says that he’s “over the whole situation of what everybody else wants me to do,” gives interesting insight into his approach, but one snippet is particularly revealing.
“I think people are expecting me to have f—— 25, 15 and 15, which, that is not normal,” Westbrook said. “Everyone has to understand that that’s not like a normal thing that people do consistently. I know that I’ve done it for the past five years or so, or whatever that may be, but that’s not like a normal thing.”
Here’s what makes that quote so interesting: Nobody is calling for Westbrook to post better statistics. It’s the opposite, in fact. Critics have called for Westbrook to place less of an emphasis on individual numbers and more on defensive effort, off-ball movement and ball security. The best version of Westbrook on a team that already relies on LeBron James to carry the bulk of the offense might be the one that doesn’t put up 25-15-15, not because putting up such numbers would hurt the team, but because the things that aren’t measured in the box score are probably more important to the Lakers when it comes to Westbrook’s place on the team than the things that are.
Do those words prove that Westbrook chases stats? No. Westbrook certainly takes questionable shots, and he freelances defensively in ways that tend to lead to rebounds even if they also make it easier for the other team to score. It just isn’t clear whether Westbrook does those things specifically in the name of stats or if he genuinely believes they give his team the best chance to win. What that quote does tell us with some degree of certainty is that Westbrook is very aware of his statistical production, and on some level, measures his performance on the court by the numbers he posts in the stat sheet. That may not mean that he chases stats, but he certainly pays them plenty of mind.