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.

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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.

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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.

Don Nelson says suggestion to trade Patrick Ewing for Shaq cost him Knicks job

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Don Nelson’s tenure as the Knicks’ coach was short. It lasted nine months. He took over for Pat Riley at the end of the 1994-95 season, coached the team to a 34-25 record, and was given the boot mid-season for Jeff Van Gundy.

Why? Nelson says it’s because he told owner James Dolan and the rest of management to trade Knicks’ icon Patrick Ewing for Shaquille O’Neal.

Nelson, now living happily in Hawaii, was on  HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” this week and talked about what went down.

Gumbel: “Did you really suggest trading Patrick Ewing?”

Nelson: “Yes. It cost me my job … I said, ‘You need to trade Patrick Ewing. And you need to trade him right away. There’s a guy by the name of Shaquille O’Neal that’s available, would love to come to New York. And we can jump in there and beat the Lakers out and get this guy. And we should do it.” And of course it got back to Ewing, and I was done. I was toast (laughing).”

Gumbel: “Why’d you wanna trade him?”

Nelson: “I didn’t think he had very much left in the tank. And he was one-dimensional. He was, you know, he was interested in rebounds and points. And that was it. And I thought that we could do better.”

Gumbel: “What’d Dolan think when you said that?”

Nelson: “He listened. But I got fired about a month later. So somebody didn’t like it.”

By the 1995-96 season, Ewing was 33 years old but averaged 22.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, and while his efficiency was starting to slip he was still an All-Star with a PER of 20.1. He would play five more seasons in New York and helped the Knicks reach the 1999 NBA Finals.

Shaq, however, was a 23-year-old dominant force just coming into his prime. In the summer of 1996 he left Orlando and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, where he and Kobe Bryant would eventually go on to rack up three rings together.

What would have happened if Nelson got his way? That’s for the writers of fan fiction, but it would have been a very different NBA. And Nelson would have stuck around in New York longer than nine months.

Cam Reddish looks to make new home with Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — Cam Reddish is looking forward to playing for the Atlanta Hawks after he was hampered by a groin injury during his one season with Duke.

The 19-year-old Reddish joins a promising young core with Atlanta that also includes Trae Young and John Collins after he was selected by the Hawks with the No. 10 pick in the NBA draft. Former Virginia star De'Andre Hunter also is headed to Atlanta once its draft-day trade with New Orleans becomes official next month.

“It’s truly a blessing and a dream come true,” Reddish said Monday at the Hawks’ training facility. “The city of Atlanta is so beautiful. I’m just really happy to be here.

“I think it’s a perfect fit in a way.”

Reddish was one of college basketball’s top prospects heading into last season. But his stock slipped a bit after he averaged 13.5 points on 35.6 percent shooting with the Blue Devils, filling a supporting role behind fellow freshmen stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

Reddish’s commitment level was called into question during the run-up to last week’s draft. But the 6-foot-7 swingman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, said he has a laid-back personality and was bothered by a minor groin tear during his short stay at Duke.

The injury shelved Reddish for the Blue Devils’ preseason Canada tour last summer. It also kept him out of an NCAA Tournament game.

“It was kind of nagging me the entire season,” Reddish said.

Reddish recently had surgery to address the issue. He will miss the NBA’s upcoming summer league while he recovers from the procedure.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said he felt Reddish fit what they are trying to do after watching him for years.

“We’ve had the opportunity to see him many times playing for USA Basketball, playing on the AAU circuit and then playing at Duke last year,” Schlenk said. “So, he’s a guy that we’ve seen for several years. We’re looking for guys that are multidimensional, multi-positional.”

Coach Lloyd Pierce envisions Reddish taking pressure off Young as a ballhandler. On the other end of the court, Pierce is looking forward to incorporating Reddish’s 7-1 wingspan into a defense that last season was one of the NBA’s least efficient.

“I think defensively is where you get excited … The more playmakers and facilitators you can put on the floor, the better your team is, and we saw the amount of attention Trae will get,” Pierce said. “We saw it late in the year, and we’ll see it more next year.”

Reddish thinks the Hawks can make the playoffs after finishing with the NBA’s fifth-worst record last season at 29-53.

“I definitely feel like it’s a possibility. It all starts with our chemistry,” Reddish said. “(Young is) a phenomenal, phenomenal player. Just talking to him made me feel really good.”

 

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sends Zion Williamson signed jersey that says ‘Passing the torch to you’

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.