Russell Westbrook: Transition Jump Shots Key to Scoring Success

Russell Westbrook had his best offensive game of the season last night against the Grizzlies. In 38 minutes of action, Westbrook shot 12-20 from the floor to score 30 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists. What made his offensive resurgence interesting to watch was in the way that Westbrook scored his points throughout most of the game. Westbrook is often criticized for his high usage rate and poor shot selection, but instead of dialing it back, Westbrook was actually more aggressive in looking for his shot, and shot it quicker than normal as well. A number of times, the Thunder would grab the defensive rebound (or Westbrook would grab it himself) and then Westbrook would race down the floor and shoot the pull-up jumper.

Westbrook's straight-line assault which often ended in transition medium range jumpers reminded me of a short story back in December.

Trainer McClanaghan Dishes on Summer Workouts of Superstars | Sports Illustrated

In the brief caption on super-trainer Rob McClanaghan's work with Westbrook, we read this (emphasis mine):

Polishing Westbrook's pull-up jump shot was a point of emphasis this summer. Because Westbrook is so explosive in the open floor, it has been difficult for him over his first three seasons to knock down pull-ups in transition. Every day, McClanaghan ran Westbrook through pull-up drills. First, he would start at the opposite baseline. Then from ¾ court. Then from halfcourt. When Westbrook got to the foul line, he would stop on a dime, pull up and shoot.

"Michael Jordan had a great pull-up shot," McClanaghan said. "All the great guards did. Before, Russell would drift sideways when he took that shot. He has corrected that."

In other words, Westbrook spent a great deal of time this past summer running up the court at full speed and then pulling up to shoot the jump shot in much the same way as we saw last night. As McClanaghan notes, Westbrook has a tendency to drift sideways when he shoots, and we have seen him miss a number of shots this season when he does just that. However, in the open court, Westbrook is coming at the rim straight on and the sideways motion is mitigated.

Let's take a quick examination of Westbrook's shot attempts to see how often this phenomenon happened:

Shot Attempt Shot Clock Expired Result
19' shot 6 seconds make
19' shot 15 seconds make
3' shot 16 seconds make
2' shot 4 seconds make
1' shot 6 seconds miss
1' shot 2 seconds make
1' shot 2 seconds make
12' shot 12 seconds make
19' shot 7 seconds make
23' shot 12 seconds miss
5' shot 6 seconds miss
13' shot 12 seconds miss
1' shot 4 seconds make
21' shot 16 seconds miss
1' shot 15 seconds miss
1' shot 11 seconds make
2' shot 21 seconds miss
19' shot 17 seconds make
1' shot 18 seconds make
21' shot 21 seconds miss

Game stats provided by ESPN

A few general observations:

  • Eight of Westbrook's 12 made shots came with less than 10 seconds expired on the shot clock.
  • Westbrook is clearly at his best when he can get to the rim, but he is also becoming very effective in shooting the medium-range jump shot. In total, Westbrook made 5 of 6 from about 12' to 19' feet out. When he goes beyond that range, his accuracy drops.
  • Two of his long misses came when the shot clock was winding down, which is speaks more of the offense's failure to generate a good shot than it is of Westbrook's inaccuracy. The Thunder typically don't draw up plays for him that require him to shoot a long range shot late in the shot clock.
  • Westbrook isn't very good yet at bailing out the team when the shot clock runs low, as he often hoists long-range jumpers. However, his other option to drive the ball hard as the clock winds down also tends to carry some risk, as Westbrook's eagerness often results in turnovers and offensive fouls.
  • Westbrook can continue to improve his half-court offensive game by working on getting to HIS sweet spots. Taking a page out of Steve Nash's repertoire, if Westbrook can become automatic at specific spots on the court; i.e. the elbow or the top of the key, he has the athletic ability to get to those spots.
In sum, the Thunder are best served to enable Westbrook to get to the rim where he can finish strong; otherwise, trust in Westbrook's ability to shoot the medium range jumper when in transition.
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