Video Breakdown: How Russell Westbrook became a triple-double machine

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Unless you locked yourself in an underground bunker during election season — and who would blame you — you know that Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, and is on-pace for 39 in total, just two shy of Oscar Robertson’s 1960-61 record of 41.

It seems only prudent that we should examine Westbrook’s efficiency, and how he’s been able to set the league aflame when it seems as though it would be easy enough to gameplan for the Thunder’s one, true elite weapon on offense.

So let’s start with the good stuff, and get to scoring first.

Scoring in Transition

A large part of Westbrook’s buckets have come in transition. He’s not only great at starting the break but sometimes he is the break.

Westbrook often takes the ball from painted area to painted area, so it makes sense that he’s Top 10 in the league in average speed for starting guards.

Something that’s a little surprising is just how many of Westbrook’s 200+ attempts at the rim are in primary or secondary transition.

Middle Post

Westbrook also gets a lot of buckets out of the mid-post — that’s the area from about 8-15 feet from the basket, and below the free-throw line.

shooting-stats

In fact, according to NBA.com/Stats, Westbrook is shooting slightly better from the 10 to 14-foot segment than he is on average for the entire season.

Oklahoma City runs set isolation plays for him to get into this post position out of the halfcourt offense, typically very quickly, with one pass and one cross-formation screen to set him up down low.

But he also gets there himself, running straight into his guard while he’s handling the ball on transition plays.

The examples above are pretty common for big guards, but even harder to defend against when it comes to Westbrook because of how dynamic he is on the break. Teams have to be able to defend against him going full steam ahead, or slowing it up, turning around, and then overpowering shorter players like Chris Paul.

Rebounding



Rebounding is where Westbrook is vital important for the Thunder, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. He grabs a fifth of Oklahoma City’s offensive rebounds every game, and his average distance from the basket on all boards is under 9 feet. So how is he so good on the glass?

Part of it has to do with floor positioning. Westbrook is such an adept penetrator that he often ends up underneath the basket after a drive and a kick. On missed buckets from his teammates, he likes to go and mix it up down low.

Plus, the guy is just tenacious and he will crash on the defensive end of the floor for extra boards.

Assists

Russell Westbrook has been so good at passing this year that when it comes to adjusted assists — regular assists, passes that led to free-throws, and hockey assists — he collects 50% more per-game than Steph Curry.

Of course, you might expect that from a player with a usage rating of 41%, but it’s also because of how Westbrook scores for himself.

transition-collapse

Teams are so worried about him in transition that they try to pack the paint around him. In the graphic above, you can see every single Miami Heat defender has packed it in against Westbrook.

If teams let him get too deep, it’s easy buckets for Westbrook’s friends. Even when he’s not blazing it up in transition, it’s hard for unprepared teams to stop Westbrook’s passing.

In the play above against the Knicks, Joakim Noah meets Westbrook high up to stop him from getting a run at the basket. Noah is squared off, and every single Knick has his head pointed toward the OKC star. The defenders at the free-throw line and the corner are shaded hard toward his drive, and Carmelo Anthony isn’t even paying attention to Andre Roberson.

That command of attention — his gravity — is part of Westbrook’s ability to create points for his team without scoring himself. When teams try to play tough with him in the middle post, there’s plenty of cutters and weak side shooters to pick up the slack:

How to Stop Russell Westbrook

Well, let’s just put it this way: nobody has really been able to stop him, not even on his “off” nights.

There have been five teams so far that have done the same three things in a given game:

  1. Stop Westbrook from getting a triple double.
  2. Force him to shoot 39% from the field or worse.
  3. Beat the Thunder.

In each of these cases, it’s been about either forcing Westbrook to take jumpers at the edge or just beyond that 10 to 14-foot range, or contesting him with significant help at the rim.

For example, in the play above against the Utah Jazz, they have All-NBA rim protector Rudy Gobert down in the paint. Gobert is ready to meet Westbrook at his highest point, and Utah has given Westbrook an unusual amount of space for that mid-range shot. But with so much runway, it’s Westbrook’s nature to run to the rim.

Meanwhile, you have Gordon Hayward digging so hard off the corner, I’d struggle to call it a dig or help. He’s basically double teaming Westbrook once he gets to the rim, and the Jazz are able to force a miss.

This predictability is what has hampered Westbrook on his poor shooting nights. Teams who are prepared for the Thunder have shown a propensity to force Westbrook into the worst version of himself on these shots.

Against Portland, you have Meyers Leonard pretty high — the same area we saw Joakim Noah in earlier — but he’s not trying to wall him off. Yes, Leonard is trying to stop Westbrook from taking the quick mid-range jumper, but then turning his hips to run with him to the rim. Leonard essentially gives way to Westbrook the entire way without letting him square to the hoop, and it works to force a miss.

Westbrook has done really well against non-elite rim protectors that try to use verticality — squaring off and going straight up at the rim — to try and stop him. He twists and turns in the air, and goes around them.

Tape on Westbrook suggests it’s actually been more successful to try and keep Westbrook from being able to square to the hoop initially by running down the line with him if you don’t have a Rudy Gobert-type of player on your team.

Squads like the Warriors have used their rim protection and this knowledge of Westbrook’s stop-or-go tendencies to neutralize him.

In the play above, Westbrook is going 3-on-5, but appears determined to drive. Forty feet from the basket the Warriors help defenders can already see what Westbrook is going to do, and they force him into a bad shot simply by collapsing on him.

Teams have also been successful using disciplined, hard digs from help defenders to throw off Westbrook once he gets into that comfort range:

All that being said, it’s not as though many teams have been able to successfully stop Westbrook. He’s been monster in transition, he’s a maestro from midrange, and his penetration has opened up both opportunities for his teammates and extra possessions thanks to his keen offensive rebounding skills.

I think we’re all interested in seeing just how far this Oklahoma City team can go this season with Westbrook on a warpath. He notched his 13th triple-double of the season on Saturday against the Phoenix Suns. That puts him on pace for 39 on the season, two short of Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 from the 1960-61 season.

Death threats may prompt Thunder’s Enes Kanter to become US citizen

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Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter said Monday he routinely received death threats for criticizing the government of his native Turkey, and he may seek an expedited process toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania over the weekend, with border police there saying they did so because Turkish authorities canceled his passport. Kanter eventually was allowed to leave for London and then New York, after he said officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others intervened on his behalf.

Kanter held a news conference in New York on Monday and said he was the target of two more death threats earlier in the day.

“This is definitely crazy right now,” he said.

Kanter has long been a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler on multiple occasions. Kanter contends, among other things, that a failed coup attempt last year was actually staged by the Erdogan-led government.

“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”

Kanter makes no secret of his support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan. Kanter said that when he was detained in Romania, he feared he would be sent back to Turkey.

Kanter said he has not spoken with his parents and other relatives in Turkey in more than a year.

“There’s no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy,” Kanter said. “Right now, even if I tried to communicate with my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, they would probably right now listen on their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me they’ll put them in a jail. And the jails are not fun, of course.”

Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport – a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.

Romanian Border Police Spokesman Fabian Badila told The Associated Press that Kanter arrived Saturday at about 1 p.m. from Frankfurt at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Airport, traveling on a Turkish passport.

“My colleagues discovered … that the passport had been canceled by Turkish authorities, and legally he is not allowed to enter Romania,” Badila said.

Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.

“I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.

Report: Knicks letting go Kristaps Porzingis’ favorite assistant coach

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There’s a rift between Knicks president Phil Jackson and Kristaps Porzingis.

Porzingis skipped his exit interview in reported protest of the team’s dysfunction. This sure feels like retaliation from Jackson.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The New York Knicks are not renewing the contract of assistant coach Josh Longstaff, according to a team official.

Longstaff, 34, was well-respected in the Knicks’ locker room, so the decision will likely come as a surprise to players.

Players such as Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Marshall Plumlee credited Longstaff and fellow assistant Dave Bliss with helping them with individual development. He played the same role in the development of Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway.

Longstaff was the assistant coach who was closest to Porzingis.

It’s hard to evaluate assistant coaches from the outside, and Longstaff wasn’t hired by Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. There could be sound reasons to let Longstaff go.

But most of those players developed well under his tutelage. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence he did his job well.

The Knicks can’t reasonably trade Porzingis, who’s one of the few bright spots on Jackson’s record. Without Porzingis, Jackson’s already-shoddy reputation as an executive would be completely shot.

So, this feels like a measured response by Jackson – a message that he can hurt Porzingis without resorting to dealing him from New York, where Porzingis says he wants to be. Follow orders, or your Knicks experience will become even worse.

Of course, that might not have been the Knicks’ intent when dropping Longstaff. But they’ll have to convince Porzingis if they want to repair their relationship with him.

Down 3-0 to Warriors, Spurs still joking about their predicament

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San Antonio’s sense of humor was still there Sunday.

Gregg Popovich predicted that Golden State stayed out way late after winning Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, celebrating with burgers and sundaes before spending Sunday playing poker. Manu Ginobili, amid plenty of questions about whether his career is ending, said the Spurs planned to lose the first three games of this series simply to make their comeback look more impressive.

The laughs seemed helpful.

The reality is that Golden State is just better, especially against a seriously undermanned Spurs team.

All jokes aside, the Spurs – and everyone else watching this West final – know it’s just about over. No team has successfully rallied from 3-0 down in an NBA playoff series, and a San Antonio team that is without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and now David Lee is facing that most precarious deficit. Game 4 is Monday in San Antonio, with Golden State now on the brink of clinching its third straight NBA Finals trip.

“Circumstances were such that we could be in a totally different position now,” said Popovich, the Spurs coach whose teams have been swept only twice in 52 previous series on his watch. “That didn’t happen. It’s called life. Slap yourself. Quit your crying and move on. Game 4.”

He’s right, of course. How different this could have been if Leonard didn’t re-injure his ankle when San Antonio was rolling with a 23-point lead in the third quarter of Game 1. The Spurs led by at least 22 points in each of their first four games against the Warriors this season. What they did against Golden State worked better than what anyone else did against Golden State.

Then, thud.

Leonard – who won’t play in Game 4 barring something “miraculous,” Popovich said – has been out since landing on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot in a hotly debated was-it-dirty-or-not closeout by the Warriors’ center. Game 1 changed in that instant, the whole series changed along with it and the Warriors will become the first team in NBA history to start a postseason 12-0 if they win on Monday.

“You know what the Spurs are about. … They’ve got a lot of pride. These guys are pros, man,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “We can’t come out here and feel like we’ve won already before the game has started. We’ve got to go take it.”

The Warriors have made it look easy, which is their normal. Golden State has won 12 consecutive games, the third time this season the Warriors have enjoyed such a streak. Combine the regular season and the postseason, and this Golden State team (78-15, .839) has a better record so far than last year’s regular-season record-setting club (88-18, .830).

Still, they’re not satisfied.

“We’ve got to play better,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

As impressive as they have been, the Warriors have had lapses. Golden State turned the ball over 21 times in Game 3 , leading to 25 San Antonio points. The Warriors also yielded 15 offensive rebounds, which San Antonio turned into 18 more points.

They won by 12 anyway. And if closing a team out on the road is supposed to be among the toughest postseason tasks, the Warriors have apparently missed that memo: Golden State won by 25 in Portland to clinch the first round, and by 26 in Utah to close out the second round.

“You let those guys get rolling, they’re a handful,” Spurs forward Pau Gasol said.

Ginobili helped keep San Antonio close in Game 3 with 21 points. He’ll likely get an emotional welcome Monday, just in case the veteran decides this season will be his last – a topic he wanted really no part of on Sunday, saying he’ll decide over the summer.

“This is getting a little weird,” Ginobili said after questions hinting at retirement. “It truly is.”

NOTES: The only teams to sweep a Popovich-coached team were the Suns in 2010 (when Warriors coach Steve Kerr was GM in Phoenix) and the Lakers in 2001 (when Kerr played for the Spurs). … Warriors acting coach Mike Brown said there’s no change in Pachulia’s condition. Pachulia played only 7 minutes of Game 2 with a heel injury, and didn’t play Saturday. … Durant lauded Popovich for not playing Leonard through the bad ankle, saying other players appreciate when teams put the future of their own players first.

 

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

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Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)