Houston (Rockets), we have a problem. On the night of March 6th, 2018, the Oklahoma City played the Houston Rockets in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Rockets were on a 15 game win streak and the Thunder were looking to bring that hot streak to an end. Although they only lost by 10 points, the game was much worse than that for the Thunder as a whole. All of the voids in the Thunder's roster were exposed. The lowest scoring bench in the league, the defensive slide experienced since the injury of Andre Roberson, and worst of all: Russ trying to do too much.
Last season, with Russell Westbrook being a one man show, his approach was to do it all by himself. To his credit, this earned him an MVP, a season long triple double average, and a 47 win season (which may be more wins than the new Russ-PG-Melo team gets this year). This year however, getting the entire team involved is crucial, as getting Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams involved makes it near impossible for most NBA teams to keep up with the Thunder. With all 4 of those players capable of scoring 20-30 points on any given night, it really puts stress on opposing defenses.
Westbrook is top 5 in the league among players who have taken 17 or more shots while scoring 16 points or less on those 17 shots (Melo ranks #1, at worst in the league in this particular stat). Russ is also shooting his lowest three point percentage in eight years. During the broadcast of Thunder-Rockets, there was an interesting stat that was shown on-screen that tied all of this together. When Russell Westbrook shoots 17 or less shots, the Thunder have a 14-2 record. In comparison, when he shots 18 or more shots, the Thunder are 22-25.
Russ shooting more than 18 shots has proven to be detrimental to this Thunder team. Naturally, when he shoots less, other guys are shooting more. This gives Paul George more opportunity to get hot, Carmelo Anthony more chances to expose mismatches, and Steven Adams more touches in the paint. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying Russ needs to go out of his way to shoot less, but if Russ were to stray away from his average 4.3 three point attempts per game, and stick to his average 17.1 two point attempts per game, we would look a lot better.
Since the Houston game, the Thunder are 2-0 with a combined +38 from Westbrook. He shot the ball 14 and 15 times respectively while shooting a much higher field goal percentage than he currently averages this season. He also only attempted 1 three pointer over the course of these two games (which was a miss), which helped his overall field goal percentage stay high as he only took good shots. During these games the bench has also excelled and Russ has found a way to lead the team as a whole to create a more balanced scoring attack, with him shooting less.
There will be games where the Thunder do need Russ to shoot more to get a win, especially in close games down the stretch where Russ thrives. When the bench, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams are struggling from the field, Russ does need to shoot 20+ shots to get points on the board. But in general, Russ shooting less and distributing more has led to a much better record than when he shoots more.
As we enter the last few weeks of the regular season, we hope Russ will look to distribute and shoot effective shots. With the scoring talent around Russ, a balanced scoring attack will be most efficient with all 5 starters having the ability to score in their own unique ways. When Russ shots the ball less and distributes more (which he is great at doing) he is most effective and the team is at its best. With Russell Westbrook, less is more.
Photo Courtesy of: Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo