There is little doubt that Russell Westbrook is an ESPN highlight of the night waiting to explode on any given possession. His world class speed and freakish athleticism, powered by the heart of a Samurai warrior and a Hollywood stuntman’s fearlessness, are unique even by today’s professional sporting standards.
You never know from the second Westbrook graces the floor until the final buzzer, what the eight-year veteran may do that will either leave you gasping in awe or howling in frustration. But either way, you know it is always entertaining.
Ironically, the coast-to-coast highlight dunks are not what separates Russell from his peers. Although they may be the most remembered...
... however, the shot that makes Westbrook truly dangerous is a simple mid-range pull-up from the elbow. A shot his Dad taught him at Jesse Owens Park while growing up in L.A. In an October, 2015 interview with Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, Russell called it, “the Cotton Shot.”
“My dad taught me that,” he said. “It’s called that because of the cotton net at the park I grew up at. ‘All cotton’ is what my dad used to say. ‘All net.’ That cotton shot is all I practiced.”
What makes “the Cotton” shot so effective is Russell’s incredible ability to get to the hoop utilizing his speed and quickness. When Westbrook steps hard toward the rim, his defender has no choice but retreat or else run the risk of being embarrassed by Russell’s unyielding abuse of the basket. This leaves no face-saving alternative for the helpless opponent, and with ample space Westbrook simply raises up from fifteen feet and drops his cotton shot.
During my post-game Facebook LIVE broadcast following the Thunder’s triumph over the Denver Nuggets, one of our esteemed viewers posed this question:
I answered yes, if Russell takes them like his Dad taught him...and here the reason why:
The shot is easy money, and the Thunder would reap even more dividends if Russell would trust the attempt solely on its merits. By that I mean just shooting it without trying to create more than the high-percentage two points the shot produces when properly executed. No frills, no flash, merely doing it like Dad taught. Simple and pure.
While Westbrook’s “Cotton Shot” is a bit unorthodox -- more of a wrist shot at the top of the jump rather than a traditional jump shot. It’s effective, and more importantly, repeatable, and even more important, repeatable under pressure. The shot above was taken with thirty-five seconds remaining in the game with the Thunder down by one.
It would take hours to determine how many times I have watched Russell take that shot, but I knew as soon as his feet touched the floor that the result was probably cotton. This is because of what Russ does with his feet —or doesn’t do— especially his left foot. I’ve noted these observations are key to “the cotton’s” effectiveness.
If Russell remains vertical, and his left foot comes down roughly where it left the floor, and he doesn’t get too cute with the right, the shot will drop the majority of the time:
By staying vertical and not drifting, Westbrook gets a clear view of his target at the apex of his jump, which sends a clear memory signal to the muscles in his wrist, which, in turn, generally results in a made attempt. However, if Russell sways to the left or right, or forward or back, the shot misses in direct correlation to the direction in which he leaned:
In this clip, Westbrook drifts back and the shot falls short:
To further drive home the point, in this attempt, Westbrook’s left foot drifts to the right, and away from the rim as the shot misses short and right:
Now see what happens when Russell drifts forward. Any guesses? Yep, the shot finishes long:
Now to the real crux of the problem: why Westbrook drifts. This goes back to what I said about Russell simply trusting the shot on its own merits. When Russell misses his signature shot, it is usually because he is attempting to draw a foul in the process.
Here is the shot done right:
Here is an attempt by Russell to draw a foul:
Give me a break! The referee looks down at Russell like, ‘you have to be kidding, right?’
Eventually frustration sets in and the shot deteriorates to this:
Another miss, followed by Russell fouling an opponent hard so he can rant at the refs for not giving him a call. Both of which are as unproductive as they are unnecessary.
NOTE TO RUSSELL: I love ya, but please, just STOP IT! Flailing around like that is a), an exercise in futility, and b), a complete waste of a perfect scoring opportunity. After eight years, this much is clear, refs won’t give you the call often enough to shoot crazy like that. Besides, why put your fate and the fate of your team at the mercy of something that is totally out of your control when the shot itself is something completely in your control?
Why go for a high-risk three-point opportunity that results in a zero-point outcome when your Dad’s “Cotton Shot,” executed properly, drops in 80% of the time or more? It’s almost as sure as death and taxes, trust it!
In fact, by my estimate, your tendency to draw the foul when you shoot the Cotton shot correctly increases ten-fold, yet plummets to almost nothing when you don’t. Turn on that Stanford level mathematical noggin, run the numbers, shoot the shot like your Dad taught you and go win some ballgames.
In conclusion, spectacular is exciting and a whole lot of fun, but oft times hard to replicate. At the end of the day, sweet, simple, and repeatable, will usually prevail. And there is nothing sweeter in the Thunder’s arsenal than what Russell Sr. taught Russell Jr. all those years ago on a LA playground:
“The Cotton Shot”