Last year in the playoffs, Russell Westbrook was benched during key fourth quarter stretches. This year, Westbrook is at the forefront of the Oklahoma City Thunder attack. Through nine post-season games, Westbrook is averaging 24.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, and 1.9 Steals. His dynamic scoring ability has made him the perfect complement to Kevin Durant. While Westbrook isn’t the prototypical point guard, his athleticism, energy, and commitment on the defensive end has fueled the Thunder. With Oklahoma City set to face San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, one of Westbrook’s key attributes will determine whether the Thunder will emerge victorious…

The Attribute: Westbrook’s turnover rate.

During the regular season, Westbrook had no trouble filling up the box score. Westbrook’s 23.6 PPG ranked towards the top among ‘point’ guards. Add in his 5.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.7 steals, and he appears to be one of the league’s best players. However, Westbrook’s turnover rate, 4.9 per game, is alarming.

Facilitation, vision, and ball control are the three main ingredients for successful point guards. Quantitatively, Westbrook measured negatively in two of these three phases during the regular season.

However, during the playoffs, Westbrook has seen both his assist rate increase and more importantly, his turnover rate, plummet. Relative to the average playoff point guard, Westbrook’s 5.9 APG don’t stack up to the 8.3 APG. True, Boston’s Rajon Rondo skews this stat a little, but Westbrook has been better at distributing the rock. In turn, Westbrook has averaged only two turnovers per game which is a major improvement in his game and the Thunder’s success. Granted, Westbrook’s first two point guard match-ups, Jason Kidd and Ramon Sessions, haven’t provided much pressure. Still, his ability to protect the ball and create for both himself and his team mates has been paramount.

In his three match-ups against the Spurs this season, Westbrook has posted similar stats to his post-season output. In particular, Westbrook only averaged 2.3 giveaways against the Spurs. In their second round match-up against the Clippers, the Spurs constantly put pressure on Chris Paul, forcing him into many uncharacteristic turnovers. Over the four games against San Antonio, Paul committed an uncharacteristically high 18 turnovers. Westbrook must be smarter than the seasoned CP3 against the dynamic San Antonio defense.

The Spurs will likely use different defensive looks as they try to slow down Westbrook. Expect Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson to torment Westbrook force him into unfavorable situations. Passing the ball is fine as long as those passes don’t end up in the hands of a San Antonio defender.

No one will dispute Westbrook’s ability to score the ball, create steals, and play great defense. However, his ability to control the ball and limit turnovers will be the key to the Western Conference Finals.