Theory on Westbrook’s shooting struggles

When someone struggles with their jump shot, there is always a reason why. In the case of Russell Westbrook, I don’t believe the issue is his shooting mechanics. From the eye test, his form looks fine to me. His elbows don’t flare out to the side, and he gets great elevation on his shot. The problem is what happens when Westbrook releases the ball. People have laughed at the air balls from the free throw line, or the bank shot attempts that hit the side of the backboard. It’s easy to simply say that Westbrook is missing that badly because he is a bad shooter. But I don’t believe that is why he is missing to that degree. My theory is that, Westbrook’s shooting struggles are the result of the the hand and finger injuries he has sustained over 2-3 year period.

Some early/mid career shooting success

From 2011-2017, Westbrook shot 82.8 percent from the free throw line according to Basketball Reference. Being able to knock down free throws consistently is a good sign for athletic point guards like Westbrook. If you can knock down your free throws, it means that your jump shot is fine from a mechanical standpoint. Westbrook’s success at the free throw line had some carry over into his ability to shoot off the dribble.

He wasn’t the most accurate mid range shooter, but he made enough mid range jumpers to keep the defense honest. It’s hard to lead the league in scoring twice (2015 and 2017) as a point guard if you can’t make a few jumpers here and there. With the type of speed Westbrook had off the dribble, defenders retreated hard in order to cut of his drive to the basket. This gave Westbrook enough space to elevate for a mid range shot. It wasn’t the most accurate shot in Westbrook’s arsenal, but he made enough to keep the defense honest.

During Westbrook’s historic 2016-2017 season, he shot 34% from beyond the arc on 7 attempts per game. Not the best, but not all that bad either.

Hand injuries

In late 2014, Westbrook missed games due to a fracture in his right hand. He needed surgery, but he was able to return to the lineup. Westbrook wouldn’t suffer another hand injury until 2019.

Towards the end of the 2018-2019 season, Westbrook tore a ligament in his left hand and had off season surgery in May of 2019. During the 2019 NBA preseason, then Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni revealed that Westbrook had been playing with multiple dislocated fingers. Later that preseason, Westbrook hurt his right hand against the Miami Heat.

In February of 2020, Westbrook missed a couple games due to a sore left thumb, Less than a year later in January of 2021, Westbrook dislocated a finger on his right hand in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Injuries affected Westbrook’s release

When there is a lot trauma to certain part of the body, that part of the body changes to a degree. Whether it’s the knee, shoulder, back, hand, etc. As we can see, Westbrook dealt with a lot of trauma to his hands from 2019-2021. Surgery on his left hand, sore thumb, sore hand, and multiple dislocated fingers. My theory is that all of that trauma affected the way Westbrook releases the ball when he shoots. Your hands are what gives you control and touch on your jump shot. If your hands gets altered or affected in anyway, that will affect your jump shot.

The left hand plays a huge role in shooting a basketball off the dribble. Right handed players like Westbrook like to dribble to their left to pull up. The reason is that as a right handed shooter, if you dribble left, your shoulders and hips are already in alignment with the basket. If you dribble right, you have to turn in the air in order to align your shoulders and hips with the basket. There is a chance that the 2019 surgery Westbrook had on his left hand impacted the way he gathers the ball when he goes up to shoot.

The numbers

As a I mentioned earlier, Westbrook was a consistent free throw shooter early on in his career. But then something weird happened during the 2017-2018 season. His free throw percentage dropped from 84 percent to 73 percent. The following season, his free throw percentage dropped again. This time down to 65 percent. He didn’t suffer any hand or finger injuries during this period of time. My guess is that he was going through a shooting slump for some reason. It was odd to see his free throw percentage drop by that much without an explanation. But shooting slumps don’t last forever. John Wall went through something similar to Westbrook.

During the 2017-2018 season, Wall’s free throw percentage dropped from 80 percent down to 72 percent. The following season, his free throw percentage declined to 69 percent. But Wall was able to get his free throw percentage back up to a respectable 75 percent, when returned to the court in 2021 after missing two years due to injury.

Westbrook did shoot 76 percent from the free throw in the 2019-2020 season. But in the 2020 playoffs, his free throw percentage dropped to 53%. Last season, Westbrook shot 65 percent from the free throw line. This season, he is at 66 percent.

Psychological side

An unexplained shooting slump is frustrating to work through. Then injuries occur, which makes it even more difficult to get your shooting rhythm back. I think the injuries affected the physical aspect of shooting the basketball for Westbrook. But there’s another side to shooting.

We have to look at the psychological side of shooting as well. As a basketball player, when you miss shot after shot, it does get to you at some point. You start to lose confidence in your shot. Shots that you would normally not think twice about, you now have to take an extra split second to think about it. In Westbrook’s case, it doesn’t help that he gets constant reminders of his shooting struggles. Whether it be memes on the internet, or people calling him “Westbrick”. Even for for a player as mentally tough as Westbrook, it’s human nature for things to get to you.

Lets stop with the hate

Russell Westbrook is not having a great season. But some of the negativity that he has received has to stop. You can be frustrated that a player isn’t playing well. But when the backlash becomes personal, that is a big problem. As fans, we sometimes forget that NBA players are actual human beings. Just because someone makes millions of dollars, doesn’t mean we can say whatever we want to them.

Theory on Westbrook’s shooting struggles Theory on Westbrook’s shooting struggles Theory on Westbrook’s shooting struggles

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