Stat: Russell Westbrook is shooting 44% on jumpers from 16′-23′ this season, up eight percent from 2010-2011 and outpacing the league average by guards by more than five percent.
Take: Largely lost amid Kevin Durant’s almost MVP-worthy year, James Harden’s jump to stardom, and Serge Ibaka leading the league in blocks this year for the Oklahoma City Thunder has been the vast improvement Westbrook has made as a shooter.
Chided league-wide last Spring and even early this season for his questionable shot-selection and score-first mentality as a point guard, Westbrook has blown away the efficiency numbers of his first three years as a pro in 2012, setting career marks in PER (24.27), field goal percentage (47.7), three point percentage (33.6), and points per shot (.79). And – perhaps fittingly – his game has been helped most by his proficiency on long twos from 16′-23′, the very shots that got him ridiculous labels like “selfish” and “tradeable” over the last nine months.
What’s so remarkable about Westbrook’s stark efficiency improvements this season is that he’s made them despite taking more of those supposedly questionable and game-losing shots than ever. He’s attempting 10.7 shots per game outside 10 feet this season compared to just eight in 2011, shooting an additional long two and more than double the amount of three pointers. While shooting accuracy was the obvious next step in Westbrook’s development as a player, that he’s improved by so much from every area on the floor despite drastically upping the amount of jumpers he takes is one of the more overlooked aspects of Oklahoma City’s offensive success this season.
That’s not to say Westbrook’s been cured of what the public overreacted to last postseason and in late December – a tendency to take tough shots early in the clock before letting offense develop – but the difference between now and then is that he’s making those confounding attempts at a much greater clip. While one wishes he could combine his sublime athleticism and unrivaled power with the court sense and mindset of a Nash or Rubio, it’s clearer than ever Westbrook will never be that player (we still haven’t seen one, actually) and the Thunder can thrive offensively nonetheless – they rank first in the league in offensive efficiency by a healthy margin.