Russell Westbrook received MVP honors after he averaged a triple double through the entire 2016-2017 NBA season. It was the first time that feat had been accomplished in nearly 50 years. It was last achieved when Oscar Robertson did so for the Sacramento Kings.
However, Westbrook has seemingly regressed since his first year without Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, despite having solid teammates on the roster. He currently shoots an abysmal 24 percent from beyond the three-point line despite still taking nearly five of them per game. He is taking four shots less than in his MVP campaign
Despite losing talent, Oklahoma City is a stingy defensive team, with length, athleticism, and hustle that frustrates opponents into shooting poorly. Teams shot just 45 percent against the Thunder this season so far, good for sixth in the league for opposing field goal percentage. They are one of the top five rebounding teams. Where they lack is in elite floor spacing and shot creation, congesting the paint. It’s harder to break down the defense without floor spacing.
Currently, they shoot less than 34 percent beyond the arc. And Westbrook absolutely hurts them on that metric. He forces the issue on offense instead of moving the ball, causing him to turn the ball over 4.8 times per game.
While Westbrook’s drives draw help defenders and create good looks, defenders know that they can bait him into taking poor three-point shots. He is shooting less than 25 percent from beyond the arc this season. If he were to develop a more consistent three point shot from beyond the arc, his game and everyone around him would improve.
With Russell Westbrook as a respectable perimeter threat, defenders could no longer only play him for the drive. He would be able to blow past as soon as the defense over commits. He could still attack the rim with the same ferocity, but he would be even more dangerous. At this point in his career, who knows if Westbrook can add more range.
Since the 2016-2017 season, Westbrook’s three-point percentage has fallen nearly 11 percentiles, even though he has started shooting around three less three-pointers per game. He makes 1.1 out of 4.8 per game.
When Westbrook shoots a high FG percentage, it greatly boosts OKC’s chances against tough defenses. When he is playing high percentage basketball and avoiding turnovers, Westbrook is among the league’s best players.
However, The Thunder still allow the game to get too ugly for them to create offensive opportunities for the rest of the team. They rank in the bottom third of teams in assists of all NBA teams when it comes to moving the ball and getting assists.
It isn’t for lack of trying from the rest of the team, but Westbrook’s ball dominance can easily lead to failure more than success. The brand of hero ball that he plays is far less efficient when compared to when players like LeBron James or even James Harden begin taking over games.
When Westbrook decides to only seek out his shot instead of playing smart, team basketball, it becomes more difficult for a team to ascend to legitimate championship contention. In 2016, he and Kevin Durant both failed to get the rest of the team involved in the final three games of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder fell into old habits with heavy isolation of Westbrook and Durant, while the Warriors countered by moving the ball seemingly without a care or moment’s hesitation.
At this point in his career, Westbrook should be able to look back at the failures of his past teams and see how his shot selection harmed his team’s chances.
The Thunder are moving in the right direction after securing Paul George to a long-term contract, a four-year, $137 million max contract this past summer. The move ensures that Westbrook has another star to play with as long as he’s in Oklahoma City. Working on his willingness to move the ball and play off of it will allow scoring players to thrive instead of watching the shot clock dwindle down as Russell Westbrook sizes up whatever may be in front of him.