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.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.