Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel has an interesting strategy for how to use Russell Westbrook alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Westbrook has always been a one-man wrecking ball on offense, capable of destroying worlds in transition, and his specialty has long been his shot creation – he leads all players in total points scored on unassisted two-pointers since 2010 due to his unique ability to drive and score at the rim. In fact, per PBP Stats, no player is within even 1,000 points of his total.
Westbrook, quite simply, has never been someone who has relied on the help of his teammates’ passes in order to score. That’s why during the offseason, it was particularly surprising to hear that Vogel wanted Westbrook to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy.
Frank Vogel says Russell Westbrook has the “green light” with catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. But he wants Westbrook to be smart with when he shoots off the dribble, especially when defenses go under screens against him.
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 12, 2021
According to Synergy, dating back to his first campaign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09, Westbrook has never finished a season with more catch-and-shoot attempts than jumpers off the bounce.
He had averaged 4.2 points per game on jump shots off the bounce in a set offense during his career thus far, per Synergy, and just 1.3 ppg as a catch-and-shoot threat. And those numbers have never been particularly close to one another, either.
Based on our research, while they are far more difficult shots, Westbrook has actually taken more than four times as many jump shots off the dribble as he has when shooting off the catch during his career. In fact, during the 2010-11 campaign, he somehow attempted more than 12 times as many shots off the dribble as he did off the catch.
Westbrook's catch-and-shoot 3P% the last five seasons:
36% last season, on only 2 attempts / gm
It'll be an interesting balance between "green light" and "not too often" https://t.co/BfsdjX461q
— Div B (@statcenter) October 12, 2021
For what it’s worth, though, his shot has always been more efficient off the catch than when he tries to shoot after putting the ball on the floor. Since turning pro, Westbrook has scored 1.00 points per possession on catch-and-shoot attempts but has managed just 0.81 PPP off the dribble.
To give that some perspective, the league averaged 1.11 PPP off the catch and 0.93 PPP off the dribble in 2020-21. The guard ranked in the 47th percentile off the catch – just a few notches below the median – this past season. But he finished the year in the 31st percentile off the dribble, which put him well below average.
But alas, it was full steam ahead for a version of the Lakers that included Westbrook waiting on the perimeter for open looks.
The early reactions to Westbrook’s stylistic change, however, have been met with a mix of surprise and disappointment. Many commented that if the front office was seeking a floor-spacing wing, then they probably should have just traded for Buddy Hield.
He missed his two catch-and-shoot attempts, both of which were taken from the weak side corner pocket.
Otherwise, Westbrook managed to hit only one of his six jump shot attempts during his regular-season debut with the Lakers – it was from the midrange and it was a dribble off the pick after a screen from Anthony Davis.
But all things considered, as noted by coach Vogel in the postgame press conference, Westbrook had a massive adjustment during his first game ever playing for his hometown team.
Frank Vogel says that Russell Westbrook has perhaps the biggest adjustment of any new player because his usage is traditionally so high, and now he’s playing alongside LeBron and AD. It will take time, Vogel said: “He’s the new guy, and he’s gotta find his way.”
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 20, 2021
The former UCLA standout has had one of the largest usage rates in the NBA during each and every season he has played, even when playing alongside the likes of Kevin Durant and James Harden in Oklahoma City.
His career usage rate sits above 32.1 percent, per PBP Stats, the fourth-highest of any player since he came into the league in 2009. But that dropped to as low as 19.3 percent in his debut with the Lakers.
Westbrook has never served as the guy who waits in the corner to take a quick fire-and-release, uncontested three-pointer. Perhaps he will be able to accomplish as much as he evolves his game with Los Angeles, but if he does, such a drastic change will take time.
Just as LeBron told him after the game, Westbrook shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Fans and analysts should give him some time to get used to his new role, too.