Russell Westbrook has been at times the Oklahoma City Thunder’s most important player this season. When the Western Conference Finals start Sunday night and he is matched up with Tony Parker, his play will be as important as ever.
Westbrook and Parker are drawing a lot of attention in this series. Both of them had great seasons and were named to the All-NBA Second Team.
Within this matchup Westbrook is the wild card. Parker is more reliable and Westbrook has the potential to be the best player on the floor or a very destructive force.
Here is a look at how well Westbrook shot the ball from each area of the floor this season via Kirk Goldsberry’s CourtVision.
It’s not surprise to see the clusters around the top of the key and that midrange area where Westbrook loves to go to his pull-up. How Westbrook is doing on that shot will be a significant factor in this series.
Note too how much better Westbrook is on the straight on shots and how his percentage drops in the wing areas. So much of Westbrook’s jump shot relies on how well he squares his body to the hoop and his form in general. It is much easier for him to do this in the middle of the floor and that’s why he shoots a better mark from those areas.
Westbrook is probably at his best on the left elbow. He loves dribbling left to right with the final dribble coming with his right hand before lifting for his jump shot. He often gets this look with a screen and will almost always use a screen to get going to his right.
The Spurs know this because they know everything. Westbrook has had a relatively easy time so far in the playoffs getting his shot but the Spurs should do a better job than the Mavericks and Lakers in taking away that look.
The main thing will be the difference in how San Antonio plays the pick-and-roll. They will undoubtedly hedge out and double the ball handler almost every time whether it is Westbrook, Kevin Durant or James Harden. They are going to want to take the ball out of their hands and sacrifice a four on three and make the Thunder pass well to beat them.
This strategy has worked to some degree against the Thunder this season most notably when they played Houston and Miami. In the playoffs so far we have seen the Thunder big three and Westbrook especially coming off ball screens with space to create and get any shot.
With the Spurs big men overplaying Westbrook coming off picks it will become tougher for him to get into rhythm and calmly go to his comfortable pull-up. This will lead to Westbrook doing other things more mainly penetrating which could be good or bad.
Another advantage the Thunder should have against the Spurs is that they will be able to go small and play Nick Collison a lot of minutes. This should make the Thunder better at being able to attack San Antonio’s pick-and-roll defense.
While the strategy and game plan by San Antonio will be sound and could be very effective at containing Westbrook, there is also a small potential of it backfiring and it opening up many more opportunities for the explosive Thunder offense.
Westbrook’s aggressiveness if harnessed and under control with a clear purpose it could become the difference maker in this series. The chemistry shown by the Thunder in the playoffs so far has been impressive and if they are able to quickly figure out the Spurs on defense they will be well on their way to stealing at least one of the first two games in San Antonio.