It’s the kind of moment that figures to make Houston Rockets fans cringe throughout the course of the coming NBA season. With less than a minute to play in Houston’s second preseason game, against the Raptors in Japan Russell Westbrook had the ball on the right-wing and took a half-hearted jab step with 13 seconds still showing on the shot clock. He stepped back and launched a 26-footer.
Problem was, Westbrook was 27 feet from the rim. Airball.
So it has gone through two exhibition outings for Westbrook, his first games as he finds his role in a Rockets uniform. He has not been terrible—13 points in Houston’s opener and 22 points on Thursday—but at the same time, the fear most prominent in bringing him to East Texas has played itself out much as expected.
Westbrook was 1-for-6 behind the arc in the first preseason game. He tried 11 3-pointers on Thursday, making just three. That makes him 4-for-17 from the 3-point line through two games. His preferred location for 3-point tries is the left wing and after going 0-for-3 from that zone in the first game, he went 2-for-8 in Game 2.
As one NBA scout told Heavy.com recently, Westbrook might not be such a poor 3-point shooter if he focused more on getting to the corners for open looks. He shot 36.7 percent on corner 3s last year, which isn’t great but would be a big improvement over his typical percentage.
“Maybe if you can get Russ to stand in the corner and take 3s from there while Harden works, that could help the situation,” the scout said. “But he does not do that. He is not a bad corner shooter but you can only get those corner shots by standing still and Russ does not stand still on the floor. I understand they think they can get him wide-open looks, but he is not a very good shooter even with wide-open looks.”
Russell Westbrook’s Shooting Has Been Historically Bad
In a Rockets training camp that has been laden with controversy from last Friday’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors by general manager Daryl Morey, the misfires of Westbrook are the most pressing on-court concern. His nine turnovers in 46 minutes have been disappointing, too.
The preseason may be meaningless and perhaps Westbrook will get the message that he should not be jacking 3s at that kind of rate. But given the context of Westbrook in Houston, his willingness to shoot long balls must be a bit scary for Rockets fans. Maybe he won’t shoot so many 3s when the regular season starts. Maybe he will.
Westbrook will have no shortage of opportunities. The Rockets, of course, love to shoot 3s. They’ve shot the most 3s in the league for five out of the last six seasons and were second in the one season they were not No. 1. Westbrook will fit right in with that mindset, having taken an average of 5.6 3-pointers per game with the Thunder last year, second on the team.
Westbrook, though, is a terrible 3-point shooter. He made 29.0 percent last year, which ranked 336th in the league. He was third-worst among NBA players who attempted at least 3.0 3-pointers per game. He is the current record holder for worst career 3-point percentage (30.8 percent) among players with 2,500 attempts.
In the offseason, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he expected Westbrook to be a better shooter for Houston.
“I would be disappointed if (Westbrook’s shooting) didn’t uptick,” he told reporters at Summer League. “I’d be really disappointed. I think we can do that. I think that just by knowing that that’s kind of how we play and him having the green light to and not worry about it.”
Obviously, there is a long way to go in the season for Westbrook to improve. But then, his shot has a long way to go, too.