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.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.