There’s been a lot of talk about Russell Westbrook exacerbating rather than helping the Lakers’ need for better free throw and 3-point shooting but a close review of his stats renews hopes his shooting struggles can be cured.
Let me first be clear about a couple of major issues. First, the critics have gone way overboard by throwing Russ under the bus for his shooting woes while ignoring the unbelievable contributions he makes in other areas. Second, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers deserve high praise for the moves they made after the Westbrook trade to add six sharpshooters who can make their free throws and shoot a high volume and high percentage from deep.
The crux of the moves Pelinka made this offseason was to shift the team’s 3-point production from superstars LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook, none of whom is really a reliable or trustworthy 3-point shooter. While LeBron, AD, and Russ are not going to stop shooting threes, the Lakers’ plan is to have their superstars attack the rim to create wide open threes for the six new 3-point shooters they signed this offseason.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Russ’ stats contain valulable clues that should alow the Lakers to find a cure to improve his 65% free throw percentage from 65% to 75% and his 3-point percentage from 31.5% to 35%.
HOW TO FIX WESTBROOK’S FREE THROW SHOOTING
Let’s start with Russell’s issues at the free throw line. Last season, he averaged 65.6% from the line, which matched the 65.6% he shot three seasons ago. Russ will need to shoot better to close games for the Lakers.
The good news is Russ is a career 79% free throw shooter over 13 seasons, who shot over 80% from the line 8 of his first 10 seasons. The bad news is his free throw percentage dropped to 68.8% over the last three years. The question the Lakers need to answer is what happened to cause the elite free throw shooter who shot 81.4% over his first 10 years to have his free throw percentage to drop 12.7% to just 68.8% over the last three years?
Nothing jumps out from reviewing his stats or comparing his free throw shooting routine now and then that explains the precitous drop in free throw percentage. There’s no correlation to his shots or free throws taken. The solution is for the Mike Penworthy, the Lakers’ shooting coach, to work with Russ to get him back to shooting free throws with the accuracy he did during his first 10 years in the league. This is a problem coaching can fix.
Getting Russell Westbrook to improve his free throw shooting from 65% to 75% as a Lakers is an attainable goal, especially since Russ won’t have the heavy workload he had at Oklahoma City, Houston, or Washington.
HOW TO IMPROVE WESTBROOK’S 3-POINT SHOOTING
When an NBA player is an elite free throw shooter, which Westbrook was his first 10 years, there’s a good chance that player will also develop into a capable 3-point shooter. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen with Russ.
But looking at his 3-point shooting stats for last season by quarter and by half revealed information that could explain Westbrook’s inconsistency when it comes to 3-point shooting and suggest a possible plan to improve. Last season, Russ shot a mediocre 31.5% on 1.3 of 4.2 threes per game but when you dig deeper you find Russ shot a respectable 35.0% on 0.6 of 1.7 threes in the 1st half but a dismal 29.1% on 0.7 of 2.4 threes in the 2nd half.
That suggests the pressure and workload playing on the Wizards could have caused Russ’ shooting percentage to dive the second half of games. Russ’ worst quarter all year long was the 4th, when he shot 27.8% from three. Frankly, playing on the Lakers with superstar bigs like LeBron James and Anthony Davis should enable Russ to dial down his effort on offense, limit his shot selection, and focus more on playmaking and attacking the rim.
A dose of restraint and discipline and less pressure and workload should give Russ the opportunity to raise his 3-point shooting from 31.5% to 35%, which would be the highest 3-point percentage in his storied 13-year career.
WHAT WESTBROOK HAS TO DO TO FIT IN WITH LAKERS
Russell Westbrook has a well-earned reputation for being a stubborn player and while he’s played with superstars like Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Bradley Beal, he’s never won a championship in his 13 seasons in the NBA.
The Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook to win their 18th championship. They’re taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands and putting it in Russ’ hands. His job will be attack the rim and turn this year’s Lakers into Showtime 2.0. For the new big three to click, all three superstars must make sacrifices. That means Russ learning to make his free throws and limiting his 3-point shots, LeBron moving to the four and playing off the ball, and AD playing the five.
All of this was obviously discussed during the meeting in Los Angeles before free agency between Russ, LeBron, and AD so each of the superstars knew beforehand what they would need to do to make the surprise trade work. Had that meeting not happened, the Lakers would have probably not traded for Russ and Buddy Hield would likely be wearing purple and gold right now. And give Pelinka credit for still being able to get the shooting they needed.
The basketball media wrongly thinks the Lakers made mistake trading for Westbrook because his poor shooting is a bad fit. In the end, the Lakers will not only prove they can win the championship but also that Russ can shoot.
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