Russell Westbrook is going to be the death of the Houston Rockets, assuming China doesn’t bankrupt them first.
For all the talk about Westbrook finally becoming less Westbrooky alongside Paul George last year, many of his old problems persist, and a lot of that comes back to his shooting.
His handiwork from outside the arc – where he makes just 23 percent of his shots – is worse than it’s ever been with the exception of his sophomore season.
And yet he takes almost seven threes per 100 possessions anyway.
That’s more than a lot of far superior shooters around the league, including players like Tobias Harris and Chris Paul.
It’s also more than Westbrook’s teammate PJ Tucker, who is hitting at a tasty 42.1 percent clip from behind the arc, which ranks him 20th league-wide (ranked higher than that among players to have taken a certain amount of shots?)
Russ’s percentages are dismal closer to the rim too.
He is hitting at just 30 percent between five and nine feet and 29.2 percent between 10 and 14 feet.
It’s not just about the poor percentages, but also the timing and context of Westbrook’s shots.
Russ has a nasty habit of taking shots at crucial moments – exactly what opposing teams want him to do – and missing them.
This is not the guy you want playing hero ball, and yet he does, with his overall assist percentage of 35.1 dropping to 28.6 in the clutch.
Meanwhile, his assist-to-turnover ratio in the clutch (17.1) is 85th league-wide and 54th among guards.
On top of playing the hero, Westbrook always takes the bait from behind the line, and if he hasn’t learned his lesson by 31-years-of-age, it’s unlikely he ever will.
When the Rockets need him most, he rarely has the sense to play to his greatest strength.
Instead, when things get tough he panics and launches an almighty bomb (a move that’s straight out of the Kim Jong-un playbook).
Westbrook on the court is like 18-year-old you hitting on the hottest girl at the club: irrational confidence outweighs logical thinking every time.
Meanwhile, someone like Tucker takes his shots within the Rockets’ Harden-centric system, with many of them coming from the corners, the most efficient shot in basketball and a spot from which he seemingly never misses.
That is what good shot selection looks like.
There are times when it appears the Rockets would be better off with another PJ Tucker in Westbrook’s place, or just any reliable three and D player.
Case in point: the Rockets have scored 11.7 more points per 100 possessions with Westbrook off the floor (120.0) than they have with him on the floor (108.3).
And guess what?
You wouldn’t have to pay a standard three and D guy a migraine-inducing $132 million over the next three years.
And sure, Westbrook is fast and athletic, but he’s also clumsy.
He fumbles the ball far more often than any All-Star level point guard should, averages 5.6 turnovers per 100 possessions (5th league-wide) and frequently violates one of basketball’s golden rules: do not make passes in mid-air.
Anyone cheering for the Rockets has surely become terrified of Westbrook.
His teams have consistently underperformed with first-round exits over the past three seasons, and he can almost always be relied upon to do something reckless.
How is that possible for a former MVP?
Oh, and while we’re on that, Westbrook won MVP in 2017 over the more deserving Harden almost entirely because of everyone’s triple-double obsession/fetish.
The moment the novelty wore off, he wasn’t even seriously considered for the award, despite averaging a triple-double for two more seasons.
His Rockets predecessor Chris Paul may have been older and less durable, but at least he was a responsible handler of the basketball.
The smart, steady, and reliable Paul represents everything that Westbrook is not.
Kevin Durant didn’t want to play with him and Paul George didn’t want to play with him.
Now, James Harden’s recent reluctance to pass him the ball suggests he may be about to reach that conclusion too.