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Film Study: Analyzing Russell Westbrook’s midrange shot selection in his Wizards debut

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers
Wizards guard Russell Westbrook.
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Following Russell Westbrook’s Wizards debut, The Athletic’s Fred Katz tweeted that Westbrook shot 6-13 on midrange shots. The tweet was a basketball Rorschach Test — some were impressed by Westbrook’s accuracy, some dismayed by the volume of two-point jumpers.

In reviewing video of each of his two-point jumpers, I found that he was actually 6-12 from the midrange in the opener against the Philadelphia 76ers. Broadly speaking, Westbrook’s 6-12 shooting was decent but still a net drain on the offense. His teammates had an effective field goal percentage of 54.1%. On these shots — which don’t include his pair of three-point misses — he shot 50.0%. The difference between Westbrook’s “good” midrange shooting and his career midrange accuracy is one made shot. His established norm on these shots is about 39%. One fewer make (5-12 instead of 6-12) is 41%.

Those 12 shots produced 12 points for the Wizards — 1.00 points per attempt. In the 72 other attempts, Washington produced 1.08 points per shot. The difference may seem small, but these small differences become significant over a long season.

By the way, the point here is NOT to rip on Westbrook. He’s a terrific player with flaws. That he’s one of the greats does not mean that he’s perfect or that he can’t do things better. And, having flaws doesn’t mean he sucks. Also, let’s agree not go down the road of labeling him selfish. He’s a first-rate playmaker for teammates, a willing passer, and he does what he does because he believes it’s going to help his team win. There are things he could do better, which is true of every player who ever played.

Also, this is hindsight nitpicking. We have the benefit of reviewing these plays multiple times while Westbrook has to make decisions in the moment, and he gets to make them only once. Still, the point of hindsight nitpicking is to inform those moment-to-moment decisions that will be coming over the course of the season.

Here’s my analysis of each of the 12 shots with a link to video so you can look at the plays yourself and join me in the holiday nitpick.

  • Q1 8:58 — Westbrook makes a step-in 16-footer over Ben Simmons with 14 seconds on the shot clock. The Wizards ran a primary action with Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant, and it’s clear that Simmons is willing to concede the shot. With so much time still on the shot clock, it would have been better for Westbrook to probe the defense to see if he could get the team a better shot.
  • Q1 8:35 — Westbrook makes a step-in 19-footer, but this is poor shot selection. Simmons is conceding the shot because it’s the one they want Westbrook to take. The Wizards hadn’t run any offensive action, in part because Westbrook brought the ball up the court and took the shot with 17 seconds still on the shot clock. No one else touched the ball.
  • Q1 7:48 — A missed step-in 20-footer with 14 seconds still on the shot clock. Poor decision — the reason he’s open is that it’s the shot Simmons and the 76ers want him to take.
  • Q1 5:17 — Grr. Another made step-in with 17 seconds still on the shot clock. This one is in semi-transition and what makes it frustrating is that Westbrook is being defended by 76ers center Joel Embiid. This was an opportunity for Westbrook to do some work against a bigger, slower center. He made this shot, but taking it was a bad decision.
  • Q1 0:01 — With one second on the clock, you take whatever shot you can get. To nitpick, if Westbrook had attacked a couple seconds earlier, he might have been able to get into the lane, force a rotation and kick to a teammates. Not a bad shot considering the time on the clock, though.
  • Q2 9:53 — Westbrook uses a screen from Robin Lopez to get into the lane. He fumbles the ball and recovers it, but then instead of backing out and resetting the offense or resuming his attack towards the rim, he takes the free throw line jumper with 17 seconds still on the shot clock. That’s a bad decision even though he was open. Remember, part of the reason he keeps getting open looks from the midrange is because that’s the shot the defense wants him to take.
  • Q3 10:16 — This is poor shot selection again. No one else touches the ball, and Westbrook pulls the trigger with 12 seconds still on the shot clock rather than waiting a few seconds to see what happens with the off-ball movement of his teammates. Watch Beal on this play — he’s starting to make a cut and he just stops and steps back to the three-point line when he sees Westbrook gearing up to take the shot Simmons and the 76ers want him to take.
  • Q3 5:50 — I’ll give him this one. Bryant screens for Westbrook and Simmons trips over Bryant’s foot and falls down. Embiid is under the rim and Philly defenders are connected to all four of Westbrook’s teammates. There’s still 13 seconds on the shot clock, but that’s a shot I don’t think he should turn down.
  • Q3 1:59 — Just a bad shot. The Wizards run some action and Westbrook is able to walk the ball into the post with 15 seconds on the shot clock. Instead of attacking the rim against a smaller defender or edging into the lane to force help, he flings up a turnaround fadeaway with 13 seconds still on the shot clock.
  • Q4 9:38 — No complaints. The Wizards ran multiple actions and swung the ball. Westbrook had an open look (Embiid preferring to concede the jumper rather than inviting a drive) and there were just 7 seconds on the shot clock.
  • Q4 9:04 — No one else touches the ball and he shoots with 18 seconds on the shot clock. It went in, but taking this shot was a poor decision. Especially with how Philadelphia was defending him, a shot of this quality would have been available later in the possession.
  • Q4 5:30 — Under 5 seconds on the shot clock, you take what you can get. In this case, it was a foot-on-the-line two-point jumper, which he air-balled.

With the benefit of video review, I would classify 8 of the 12 attempts as poor decisions. They came early in the shot clock, often without the team running an offensive action or anyone else touching the ball. In each of those 8 instances, a similar shot likely would have been available to Westbrook later in the possession because the Philadelphia defense was conceding those shots. On each of those plays, the Wizards likely would have been better served for Westbrook to work the defense, run an action and try to get the team a better shot.