Henry Abbott of TrueHoop had an interesting post today talking about a player and what his offseason improvement should really be. Most have said this player needs a post game, but Henry makes a very good argument that really what would make this player the most lethal player — especially in the context of his team — is a consistent 3-pointer.
Who is he talking about? LeBron James, of course. But in reading it, naturally I felt like if this were an NBA Mad Libs post, you could easily have inserted Russell Westbrook in and it would’ve made the same exact, excellent point.
Here comes a fearsome dunker with a head of steam. Anything you’re going to do to stop him is going to open up opportunities the [Thunder] can really use, like a pass to [Durant] cutting into the lane from the weak wide, [Ibaka] stepping out to the free throw line for that mid-range jumper, or [Westbrook] going nuclear at the rim.
[Westbrook] has fairly consistently made about a third of his NBA 3-pointers. Somewhere around that percentage is the point where you’re bad enough that defenses want you to shoot 3s.
As you improve from 33 percent, however, every opportunity you get to take an open 3 is likely to improve your whole team’s offensive efficiency. Open 3s for 40 percent 3-point shooters win games, and defenses know that and go to great lengths to prevent shots like that. Making more 3s would give [Westbrook] a way to move defenders away from the rim — which has the potential to vastly improve the entire team’s offense.
(Now Westbrook’s career 3-point percentage is actually 27.4, but he was vastly improved in the second half of last season, hitting 33 percent for the season and since January, 41.8 percent from 3 to finish the regular season. And he even had a stretch from January to the end of March where he went 20-41 from deep. So Westbrook is getting there.)
I really think you could make a case that Westbrook is a baby LeBron. Both are absolutely impossible to check one-on-one. Both are bigger, stronger and faster than almost every defensive counterpart checking them. And the book on both defensively is to A) Try and seal the paint as well as possible because B) he can’t shoot consistently so that’s what you want him doing.
(An aside: You know who LeBron needed to be more like this postseason? Russell Westbrook. LeBron needed that “Honey Badger don’t care” mentality that Westbrook has. There is no explanation as to why or how Westbrook was able to dice apart the Mavs defense in five games, getting to the rim mostly when he wanted, but LeBron James couldn’t. That makes absolutely no sense.)
A good 3 is something pretty much any good, attacking player would be better with. Derrick Rose sort of started his development to using the 3 last season and it helped him win an MVP. When you can get to the rim and beat anyone off the dribble, if you can add in a 3 that drops semi-consistently, you force defenses to play you closer which makes your drive around a defender easier and you also open your own game and your team’s offense up a substantial amount.
I wrote a couple weeks ago about the improvement in Westbrook’s jumper. He’s been labeled as a bad shooter since he came into the league and most nationally don’t realize that in terms of mid-range, he’s solid. But those nights where he hit three or four from deep showcased how nasty a player Westbrook can be. When he’s hitting that type of shot, how do you even think about guarding him? Everything opens up not just for him, but for KD, Ibaka, Harden and whoever else.
For Westbrook now, it’s all about shot management. Some nights he has it, others he doesn’t. He’s done a much better job of limiting 3s to only when he’s actually in a rhythm, which has helped.
Adding in a deadly 3 is much easier said than done. If you could just plug it into your game, everyone would do it. Think about how much more difficult Rajon Rondo would be to guard if he could hit a 3? He can’t even hit a free throw line jumper consistently. Some guys just don’t have it in them to shoot well. Westbrook does. Jason Kidd completely re-invented himself by working tirelessly on an outside shot. But think about Kidd in 1999 with a deadly 3?
At some point Westbrook will have to do like Kidd once the jets start to cool, so why not get a head start now and become unguardable? Sounds like a good plan to me.