2 min read

What’s up with Russell Westbrook’s shot?

Russell Westbrook hasn’t shot the ball very well this year. It’s become a bit of A Thing. With Westbrook, the mid-range game is off, but he’s also not finishing. And it’s killing his shooting percentage, which is down to 40.4 percent, close to his rookie level of 39.8 percent.

Part of it is that Westbrook lacks consistency. Consider this: Westbrook hasn’t had back-to-back games where he’s shot 50 percent or above from the floor yet this season. In fact, Westbrook has only hit 50 percent of his shots six games out of 30.

On a TrueHoop TV, David Thorpe diagnosed it like this:

“The one area I noticed with his jumpshot is he’s trying to shoot the ball at the height of his jump, which is really what a classy jumpshot is. But most players are shooting the ball on the way up, where they actually can get it off a little bit quicker and the timing is a bit easier. If you’re trying to shoot the ball at the height of your jump, by the very definition, you’re only there for a millisecond, the height, because you’re either on the way up, or the way down. And too often I think he’s shooting the ball on the way down.”

Like Thorpe notes, it’s incredibly difficult to repeat that motion over and over and over. And it leads to inconsistent jumpshooting. Then you add in Westbrook’s tendency to shoot off balance or to shoot with a defender contesting.

I’ve written about Westbrook’s jumper before and there’s no doubt he’s improved a lot in his technique and with his mechanics. But slumps happen to everyone. A little hitch gets in there, you overthink, you try and shoot too perfectly. I think that’s often what happens when Westbrook does the thing where he releases slightly late instead of at the peak. He’s trying to shoot too mechanically sound.

I’d add this too: I’ve noticed that Westbrook tends to shoot the ball with the palm of his hand. The generally accepted shooting technique is to have a little pocket of space between your palm and the ball when you shoot as you have it resting up on your fingers. Westbrook kind of rolls the ball off the palm of his hand, then to the tips of his fingers as he follows through and puts his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.

Westbrook has worked — and continues to work — extremely hard on his jumpshooting and there’s no doubt he’s come a very long way with it since his rookie year. I think his low percentage mostly stems from him not finishing at the rim (hitting just 53.7 percent there, down from over 60 percent the last two seasons). On long 2s, Westbrook’s hitting a lower percentage this season compared to last — 36 percent this year, 43 percent last season — but if you look at his career, 2011-12 might’ve been an outlier.

The jumpshooting for Westbrook tends to come and go, game to game. Some nights, it’s money,  like against Houston. Other nights, it’s off. Where Westbrook used to make up the difference to maintain a solid percentage was by scoring consistently at the rim. Because like Thorpe notes, because of Westbrook’s technique combined with his shot choices, it’s going to be tough for him to be a consistently good jumpshooter.