The dog days of Summer are upon us, and the excitement of the draft and free agency are moving into our short term memory. For the next two and a half months we’ll have nothing to tide us over in round ball except an occasional news blurb about some team interested in Rasho Nesterovic to bolster their front line, or another article about whether Lebron is better than M.J…
Maybe it’s time for some to look to other things to help pass the time between now and training camp. Royce made a few quality suggestions last week. For me, I decided to fire up the DVR. I have about 20 Thunder games saved, just waiting for me to watch or do something with. I thought maybe I would re watch all of them over this time and come up with some clever angle to write about, but it hit me the other day what I wanted to do: to give a real in-depth analysis of Russell Westbrook.
If you’ve been reading DailyThunder for awhile, or any of a number of the forums or blogs that deal with the Thunder on a regular basis than you are familiar with one of the recurring debates: is Russell Westbrook our Point Guard of the future? Many would point to his overall rookie output of 15 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds as a rookie (give or take) and realize that only a small number of rookies (11) have ever reached each of those benchmarks in their rookie seasons; guys with names like Jordan, Chris Paul, Magic, Grant Hill, Oscar Robinson. That’s great company to be in, but others would point to his 1.6 assist to turnover ratio, or his 17% turnover rate, or his .399 field goal shooting and .277 three point shooting and say we have a combo guard who will never be a point guard.
I don’t plan to definitively answer that question here, but what I thought I would do is watch tape of the Thunder and chart out every offensive and defensive play that RW plays an active role in in a given game and see where he excels and where he is lacking. This is a work in progress, and I plan to make it an ongoing series to help tide over some of us hoop junkies during the off season.
For the first run I chose the April 8th game against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. This wasn’t one of those two close match-ups with Denver that ended on the last shot. This was a 10 point loss to Denver in which Russell started and played 33 minutes. It featured our end of season starting lineup of Durant, Green, Krstic, Thabo and RW. It wasn’t Russell’s best or worst game, but it was the second night of a back to back, facing a quality opponent (Denver and Chauncey Billups) with all the regulars on board. Russ shot 6/13 from the field, had 14 points, 11 assists and 5 turns.
I’ve just completed the first quarter of the game and realized I already had a ton of data, so I thought I would share it incrementally by quarters here, and I will start with the defense. In the first quarter of the Denver game there were 18 offensive and defensive possessions. I broke Russ’s defense down into 5 categories and gave him a check mark each time he did something to fall into one of the categories (note, the number of category entries will be greater than the number of possessions because often Russ did multiple categorical things during the same possession; like a blown assignment and a defensive rebound in the same possession)
- On the defensive side the first category was “acceptable defense, or not involved in play”. Russ scored 12 checks in that box out of 18 possessions. I don’t have any idea if that is good or bad, but at least Russ did his job on those 12 defensive possessions. That’s 2/3rds which might indicate some level of proficiency. Many of those 12 were where Billups brought up the ball, Russ defended by getting into a good stance with his arms out and his knees bent ready to defend, and Billups simply made an inlet pass to a Denver player and Russ wasn’t involved further.
- The next category was “slow fighting over screen”. Russ scored twice in that category. This is where Billups had a big man come over and screen Russ and Russ was weak or slow going over the top of it. If coach Brooks defense calls for going over the top of screens, Russ did a poor job on two of these giving Billups tons of freedom to drive, pull up or hit the big man on the roll to the basket. I didn’t notice a single time where Russell was strong fighting over the screen.
- Next is “didn’t pick up his man”. Russ got three checks in this box. Basically it was in transition after a turnover or a Denver defensive rebound where Denver was off running. Russell didn’t find his man, or didn’t catch up to him regardless of whether his man benefitted from being unguarded.
- The next category is “didn’t rotate to help on D in the paint”. Russ had one notable check in this box when Billups was out and Russ was guarding Anthony Carter, who took him down into the right corner. Russ cheated off of him and had his feet in the paint watching Carmelo take it to the rack. Russ stood and watched Carmelo score without rotating to help. This may or may not be according to the defensive scheme since Krstic did rotate but was late. Perhaps Brooks wants his guards to stay home and prevent the drive and dish for the corner three.
- Finally the last category was “defensive rebound”. Russell attacked the boards and got the rebound once in this first quarter and didn’t significantly impact the team D.
Now the offense. The Point Guard is the quarterback of the offense, the catalyst for scoring. How well did he excel? I came up with 7 categories on offense, or 7 areas that I noticed where Russ was either lacking, did well, or had minor or no involvement:
- The first category is “finds the open man”. By that I mean he finds a guy who is in position to make a play. The open guy in the corner, or the guy cutting to the basket, or he hits the roller just right on the screen and roll. Of the 18 possessions in the first quarter Russ hit the open man 7 times. He was credited with 4 assists, the other three were missed shots and he got no credit, but he hit the right man at the right time. One play that the Thunder ran repeatedly was a back pass to the trailer. Usually it was transition where we got a turn or a defensive rebound and Russ got the ball and took off running. It seemed to be Uncle Jeff that was predominantly the trailer in this game, but Russ just seemed to know where he was and penetrated into the paint a bit and then whipped a pass back to Jeff who was heading for the rim. Easy money.
- Next was “gets jammed”. Russ got two checks in that box. This is where he probes the defense with his dribble and gets bottle necked, often picking up his dribble. He gets trapped and has to find someone to pass to in a hurry. Russ needs to learn to not pick up his dribble there so he can get himself out of the trap. Thunder fans saw a lot of this during the season.
- Next is “forces bad shot”. Russ took two of those in the first quarter of the game. One was a 22 footer with 16 seconds on the shot clock, the other was a 21 footer with 19 seconds on the shot clock. These long twos are the least efficient shot on the court and with so much time on the clock compounded with Russ’s poor shooting percentages, it’s as good as giving away the possession.
- Next is “risky or bad pass”. This is regardless of whether or not it resulted in a turn, just an ill advised pass when a better decision could have been made. Russ made two of those, but his teammates saved the possessions and Russ wasn’t charged with a turn.
- Next are two categories that I probably could have meshed into one. “Nominal involvement” and “no involvement”. Nominal involvement is where Russ passed to somebody who may have passed again or created their own offense and Russ’s pass was a very small part. Russ scored 4 times in this category. Russ had 3 checks in the “no involvement” category where usually in transition a rebound and run situation occurred and Russ never handled the ball.
- The final category to me is the most troubling, and the area where in my opinion Russ needs the most work if he is to be our big time Point Guard going forward. The category is “poor use of screen”. Russ only had two checks in this box out of 18 possessions, but they were blatantly bad. What happened both times is Russ was the ball handler out above the three point line just a bit off to one side or the other (the high elbow area). Russ gets a screen from a big (either Krstic or Green). The big comes and plants himself at right angles to Russ intending to impede the progress of Chauncey Billups as Russ moves off the screen, opening up numerous options for Russ. It’s Russ’s job as the ball handler to maneuver himself close to the screening big, ideally almost rubbing shoulders. What this does is seal off the defender and leaves him no room to fight over the screen and continue to defend. Twice Russ didn’t maneuver himself or his defender into the screen. He instead got about 3 feet away from the screener and then moved off. This is just wrong. What that does is allow an avenue or a lane between the big and Russell which Billups can run right through. It’s like a running back hitting a hole in football. This absolutely needs to be corrected. Russ needs to basically rub off the screener and the screener sort of uses his hip all in one motion to seal off the defensive pursuit or else the whole screen and roll breaks down and becomes easy to defend. Check out Deron Williams running the screen and roll:
The Thunder were 29th of 30 teams in offensive efficency last season, and fixing little things like Russ not picking up his dribble and getting jammed, and learning to use his screens correctly are just little tweaks that can pay big dividends in our efficiency next year. Defensively the team can improve when Russ learns to always find his man in transition and gets to work fighting over those screens.