Russell Westbrook is a historically awful perimeter shooter. Let’s talk about it.

There are more than 300 seasons where a player has shot over 300 three pointers indexed in the basketball reference database. Out of these players, only one player has shot below 30% from the three point line. That player is, of course, Russell Westbrook.

Player (season) 3P% TS%
Russell Westbrook (15-16) .296 55.4%
Gary Payton (96-97) .313 54.5%
Lebron James (07-08) .315 56.8%
Lebron James (06-07) .319 55.2%
Allen Iverson (00-01) .320 51.8%
Russell Westbrook (12-13) .323 53.2%

In fact, Westbrook has posted two of the top six most inefficient three point shooting seasons of all time. Even just last year, Russell Westbrook put up bricks in a historic manner, shooting 29.0% from deep on 411 attempts. In essence, he put up the 40th most threes out of any player in the NBA while making the 76th most. He also shot 65% from the free throw line and posted his worst true shooting percentage (50.1%) since his second year in the league. Rough.

Thankfully, shooting is not what Westbrook solely relies on as the tenacity he brings to the court every night is nearly unmatched throughout the league. Yet, there is solid evidence to suggest that he is starting to feel the never-ending wear and tear of age and minutes. Even just last year his on-court speed decreased sharply from years prior as he went from an average speed of 4.14 to 3.97. For reference, that’s about the difference between Bradley Beal’s speed (4.19) and Andre Drummond’s (3.94).

Years Miles Per Game Average Speed
2015-2016 2.37 4.15
2016-2017 2.37 4.13
2017-2018 2.51 4.14
2018-2019 2.54 3.97

With his athleticism potentially fading, what can Westbrook bring to a title contender such as the Rockets that may push them over the hump?

The topic of the potential fit of Westbrook with the current Rockets has been written ad nauseum. Without delving too much into that specific discussion, it is clear that Westbrook needs to improve his play in order to work well with the Rockets. One way to do that is to enhance the consistency of his perimeter shooting. But can eleven year veterans improve their three point shot later in their career? History shows us three players that progressed at different parts of their career.

  1. Clyde Drexler

The Hall of Fame NBA champion and Houston Rockets legend was always an effective player. After averaging 17.2 points per game on 49% from the field in just his second year in the league, everyone knew he was destined for greatness.

What is lost in the footnotes of basketball history is how timid and horrendous of an outside shooter he started his career as. During his first seven seasons, he shot below 29% from deep. In fact, it was not until his ninth season that he was able to shoot over 33% from deep. (It should be noted that he only took four three pointers in his first year in the league).

But as you can see above, his three point shooting improved dramatically, especially in the second half of his illustrious career. What changed for Drexler?

Volume

Clyde went from taking less than one three pointer a game to taking nearly six a game during his 13th season. In fact, the only downward blip in his three point effectiveness in the second half of his playing career was during his shortened 1992-1993 season. This dramatically increased volume could have helped mature his shot and develop him into a sharp shooter.

Westbrook, interestingly, had his best three point shooting season during the 2016-2017 season where he shot a respectable 34.2% from deep on 7.2 attempts per game, nearly two more attempts than any other season.

2. Lebron James

Lebron James is arguably the greatest player to touch the hardwood so any comparison to him must be met with heavy criticism. However, Lebron started off his career as a pretty dreadful three point shooter.

In his first professional year he shot a horrid 29% from deep on 2.7 attempts per game. This, thankfully, did not last long as the next year he shot up to 35.1% from deep.

What changed for James? Well, it was his second year in the NBA, so of course it could have been that he learned more and went through multiple levels of growth and maturation in his game.

However, it also could’ve been that team’s dynamics. During the 2003-2004 season, the Cavaliers ranked dead last in three pointers made per game as they hit a putrid three per game. Lebron’s poor three point shooting could have also come from the defense not even trying to respect an outside game from the Cavaliers, thus cratering in on the 18-year old future hall of famer.

Russell Westbrook is starting this year on a team that is dramatically different than the ones he previously played on. Last year, Westbrook was facilitating on a team that ranked 13th in three pointers made per game with the 22nd best three point percentage.

This year?

Russ is going to be sharing the rock with a team that ranked first in three pointers made per game (16.5) and 12th in three point percentage. The Rockets are historically stellar in the three point shooting department and will provide Russ with as much spacing as humanly possible.

3. Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd’s nickname used to be “Ason Kidd” because he struggled so much with his jumper in his early years. Honestly, his overall field goal percentage never was great. In fact, throughout his 19 seasons, he only shot above 42% from the field twice. Yet, somehow, he found his way to make the tenth most three point field goals of all time.

What changed for Jason Kidd?

Focusing more on just shooting threes.

During Kidd’s best days as a three point shooter, which happened to be in his later years, he was able to shoot above 40% from deep on 4-5+ attempts per game. Also during this time, he shot nearly 80% of his shots from the three point line.

The Hard Truth

Volume, spacing, team dynamics and more of a focus on perimeter shooting may all play a substantial role in a successful high volume shooter. In reality, the only sure-fire way for Russell Westbrook to become a better shooter is to change the mechanics, foundations, and instincts of his shot.

For instance, take this moment.

Westbrook has plenty of time to take a better attempt. After creating space from the nearest defender he takes a poorly-advised, off balance shot where his legs aren’t set.

Another clip, this time from the Jazz series, where once again Westbrook rushes up a shot.

With a desperately closing Joe Ingles, one mediocre pump fake by Westbrook would have allowed him more time and even more space to hit the clutch shot.

This isn’t to say Westbrook is always a poor shot-taker, as sometimes his fundamentals kick in to success.

This is, admittedly, a lower leverage situation. However, he takes his time, sets his feet, and follows through beautifully. He allows for a safe landing space, a natural follow through and a balanced stance.

Suboptimal and inconsistent instincts by a high volume shooter deep into his career are not positive signs. While we have seen Westbrook shoot a respectable percentage from deep in 2016-2017, the fact that his entire career besides that season has been atrocious from deep means that could have been a fluke.

Westbrook may very well see his three point shot percentage shoot well into the 30s again this year given the shifting team dynamics. But, for him to make a dramatic leap into a true, high-power efficient shooter means taking a hard and very critical look at his shooting instincts and mechanics. It is hard to see that happening in an 11-year veteran. But, a fanbase can dream.

Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

About the author: David Z. Allen is a fourth year medical student at The Ohio State College of Medicine. Born in Houston, Texas, his favorite NBA players are Hakeem, Francis, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, James Harden, and Lebron James.

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Michael jordan is the greatest player of all time not overrated lebum james

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