Russell Westbrook has often been criticized for his trigger-happy approach to the game of basketball. He has never been shy when it comes to launching jumpers from just about anywhere on the court. But is the point guard shooting too much?
Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the San Antonio Spurs, in what was a very important game. The Thunder had a chance to catch up to Tim Duncan and co. in the Western Conference standings, but instead find themselves two games back.
Kawhi Leonard did a great job defensively on Kevin Durant, forcing the best scorer in the NBA into committing five turnovers. Despite the fact that Durant struggled to get good looks, he still scored 26 points on 7-13 shooting. What about his partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, you might ask? He scored 25 points, but did so on 27 shot attempts.
Before we delve into some interesting stats, let’s analyze some of Westbrook’s shot attempts from yesterday’s contest.
In the first clip, Westbrook is dribbling the ball at the top of the key, waiting for Kendrick Perkins to set a screen. After a glance over his right shoulder, Gary Neal anticipates the pick and positions himself to go over the screen. This opens up the lane and Westbrook quickly advances to the middle of the floor, throwing up an off-balance mid-range jumper. Perkins should probably have rolled to the basket, not allowing Duncan to help, but it was a poor shot nonetheless.
The second clip displays a sequence that has become all too common. Westbrook quickly advances the ball, steps into a mid-range jumper and throws it up. No other Thunder player touches the ball in the quick seven-second possession, and the result is another yet another brick.
In our final clip, Sefolosha rebounds his own miss and gives the ball to Russell. He dribbles the ball out of the paint, with Tiago Splitter on him. Instead of allowing the Thunder to spread out the floor — which would allow him to exploit the clear mismatch — Westbrook bails out Splitter and shoots again.
Here is Westbrook’s shot chart from last night’s game:
So what do all of the above clips have in common? They are all mid-range jump shots – something that Westbrook has fallen in love with. Only eight players in the league have taken more mid-range shots than Westbrook. Seven of the players (all but Monta Ellis) connect on over 40% of their shots from that particular area. Westbrook, on the other hand, has taken 368 shots in the same spot, shooting at a very poor 37.8% clip.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that shooting at that percentage is simply not beneficial to the team. But wait, it gets worse.
Out of all of his made field goals in the mid-range area, Westbrook has only been assisted on 8.6%. This means that him running up the floor and taking an ill-advised jumper, as shown in the clips, is not just an anomaly from yesterday’s game – it’s a habit and something that Westbrook does on a regular basis.
What makes it ironic is that Westbrook has one of the best mid-range shooters on his team. Only six players in the league shoot the mid-range jumper at a higher percentage than Serge Ibaka (at least 100 attempts), who hits 49.2% of his attempts in the area. However, Ibaka is assisted on over 90% of those makes, and unless Westbrook, Durant or anyone else sets him up, it is unlikely that he will create the opportunity himself.
The problem is not the amount of shots Westbrook takes, but the quality of the looks that he gets. He averages more field goal attempts than Durant (18.8 to 17.9) and has taken more shots than his superstar teammate in 40 out of 64 possible games. Only Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony attempt more shots than Westbrook.
There is no doubt Russell enjoys his fair share of hero ball, but he does a lot of things well. Here are two sequences from last night’s loss:
First play is truly spectacular. With less than 10 seconds to go in the quarter, players generally run the ball up the floor as quickly as possible. Instead, Westbrook calmly makes his way over half court, allows the clock to tick down to three seconds, explodes to the rim and finishes the play.
The second sequence is another example of Westbrook pushing the ball of a defensive rebound. Instead of taking a jumper, he acknowledges that no one is trying to stop the ball, and gets to the rim for another easy layup.
Westbrook is at his best when he uses his supreme athleticism to his advantage. When it comes to pushing the ball up the floor and transitioning defense into offense, he is truly one of the best that we have in this league. However, his undeniable affection to the jump shot trumps the things he does well all too often.
The sequences shown above have truly become a problem. Not only is Westbrook not an efficient shooter, but his individual scoring does much more than drag down the overall field goal percentage of the team. Swift possessions in which no one but Westbrook touches the ball, disrupt the rhythm off the offense. Come playoff time, this will become even more glaring and the Thunder will get punished.
Westbrook is averaging a decent 7.6 assists per game, but there is no reason why he couldn’t get closer to double digits in that category, especially when playing with Durant and Ibaka. Westbrook needs to make better use his incredible athletic abilities, while taking less ill-advised shots. If he does that, the sky is truly the limit for the Oklahoma City Thunder.