Take all shooters in NBA history that attempted at least 5 shots from behind the arc, and Russell Westbrook is ranked dead last. Not recently – of all time. He is shooting 21.56% for the season. If the Rockets want to win a title, that has to change. The problem is, the trend is only going down.
Take into account the logic Daryl Morey had when trading for Westbrook. Yes, CP3 is a better shooter and playmaker, but Westbrook is far more athletic and reliable. He can bring a new dynamic for the team with his athleticism and attacking the rim, sucking defenses in and then dishing it out to shooters. Most importantly, the likelihood of a hamstring injury with Westbrook is quite low. With some coaching and dedication, he may even play solid defense.
But what about the shooting? Westbrook was always barely average as a shooter, especially from the three-pointer. Last two years he averaged 29% from behind the arc. But, he never played with James Harden…well, this version of James Harden. Westbrook never had so many open looks as he will play next to Harden. It is reasonable to expect his percentage will increase a bit; 32%-33% would be amazing.
The facts say it is quite opposite. As I mentioned, Westbrook is at 21.56%, worst for all players that attempted 5 or more shots per game. What went wrong? Well, the thinking was correct. Westbrook has never shot so many uncontested threes in his life. What the Rockets constantly seem to miscalculate is the human element in basketball. If you don’t have terrible mechanics, confidence is one of the most important elements for shot consistency. When the opposition builds their entire defense with a “we’d like nothing more than a Westbrook three” attitude, and you don’t drain it? This starts to happen.
The Raptors went with the same defense they pulled on the Warriors in the playoffs, box-and-one. One player is playing man defense on Harden, while others are in a zone. The way you beat the zone is you load the perimeter with players, have quick ball movement are you are bound to get an open shot. The Raptors can hedge so Westbrook is the open man and not really rotate to him. See how Siakam was hedging? But Westbrook didn’t take the open three, he dribbled in and Van Vleet made him take a bad shot. Here’s what you do against a box-and-one.
The difference here? No Westbrook on the court, all players are willing and able shooters and the ball finds its way to the most efficient three-point shot – a corner three. There’s no player you can hedge on as Siakam did with Westbrook. Just one bad shooter on the team and the defense stand a chance to limit Harden and not give away a good shot.
If Westbrook doesn’t improve his percentage, Mike D’Antoni will have some hard decisions to make come playoff time. He may need to keep a former MVP on the bench in key moments. Will he be able to do that? Well, the Rockets didn’t extend D’Antoni this summer so, what does he have to lose?
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference