Russell Westbrook is one of the best athletes in the NBA. One of the ways that he is best at using his athleticism is in getting to the rim.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN recently broke down the best and the worst when it comes to taking layups in the NBA.
LeBron James by no surprise comes out as the best. He made 70 percent of his 357 attempted layups last year. By comparison, Carmelo Anthony made just 50 percent of his 335 attempted layups.
Strauss slotted Westbrook into a category by himself in the middle of the pack.
Westbrook might be the player whose facility at making layups simply means he gets to the rim a bunch. That’s not entirely fair, though, because Westbrook can and does finish with either hand.
You just wouldn’t expect the dynamic point guard to be a whole 12 percent worse on layups than LeBron, given Westbrook’s elite speed and hops. It appears, from the video clips, as if Westbrook flies into the lane with more desire than strategy, willing the ball toward what might be the hoop. That’s nitpicking because, even if Westbrook is only OK at converting layup attempts, it matters more that he is creating so many of them.
Westbrook’s ability to get to the rim and attempt so many layups (478 last season) is the most impressive thing about him. Now, he only made 58 percent of those, which isn’t a terrible number, but certainly could be improved.
I agree with Strauss’ assessment of Westbrook. So often when Westbrook gets into the lane for a layup, he’s doing so on a last-second decision, utilizing his superior athleticism to pull off a high degree of difficulty move.
Westbrook isn’t nearly as calculated as LeBron with his shot choice, and is probably on the other end of the spectrum in terms of calculation, which is why his percentage is so much lower.
Westbrook has definitely been improving in this department as the years have gone on. He still has a long way to go but he is taking smarter shots and his percentage everywhere is rising.
If Westbrook can continue to be among the top of the league in attempted layups, and get that percentage on those shots up into the mid 60s, it will be very scary. It’ll mean that he is still getting to the line a ton, and scoring more.
Westbrook has the ability to do this, and his mentality when going to the rim should improve as he matures as a player. If it does, it will become another thing that makes OKC unfair to play against.