In Los Angeles, well before a deluge of injuries came crashing down onto the Lakers, and prior to their disappointing 8-8 record start to the year, Russell Westbrook pulled up and canned his first jumper of the season.
The shot came at exactly the 7:00 minute mark in the third quarter of the team’s opening night loss to the Golden State Warriors. It was a single make, on a single attempt, against a single defensive coverage, but it also provided the fanbase their very own glimpse at the Chekov’s gun of their new star’s game, and how the opposition interacts with it.
On the play, Westbrook initially hit Jordan Poole with a hesitation dribble before picking up some speed as he drifted around an Anthony Davis pick. Poole naturally did what any defender would do against a Westbrook ball-screen in this instance, going under the screen and daring the point guard to shoot.
Westbrook, as is his wont, happily did. But what came next was just the first installment in what has become one of the more fun quirks to track in an otherwise dull start to the Lakers’ season — Westbrook calling bank.
The ball leaves Westbrook’s fingertips and clanks off the apex of the glass, hitting every part of the rim on the way down before finally falling through. It is a shot attempt that is violent, blunt, and yet also — despite it’s reputation as lucky — requires a level of guile it perhaps doesn’t get full credit for. A fitting encapsulation of Westbrook’s career up to this point.
On the year, Westbrook has consistently faced defenses that have gone under his ball-screens, sagged off of him on the weak-side, and simply served the jumper to him on a silver platter due to his reputation as one of the league’s worst high-volume perimeter shooters ever. Despite shooting just 30.5% for his career, Westbrook has taken the 56th-most attempts from deep in the history of the league. He’s always been happy to shoot.
So far that reputation has mostly continued as a member of the Lakers. According to Cleaning the Glass, Westbrook’s 40% conversion rate from the midrange ranks in just the 44th percentile among other point guards this season. And on his 3-point attempts, the guard is shooting a woeful 29% (16th percentile).
While his early percentages in the aggregate do not bode well when it comes to him balking his career trends, Westbrook’s bank shots, on the other hand, have been downright sensational.
As of this article, Westbrook has already attempted 32 bank shots through his team’s first 16 games of the season, converting an impressive 18 of them (56%). On every other non-rim shot attempt, he has made just 44 out of 141 (31%).
Although 32 shots is obviously not a massive sample, the confidence in which Westbrook has navigated the floor to get to his spots, namely the left elbow, does signal it’s an area and shot angle he’s comfortable with. A positive pet shot he could have in his back-pocket given these looks will continue to be readily available to him.
It was actually during his adolescence in Los Angeles where Westbrook and his father worked tirelessly on perfecting his pull-up game, something he calls his “cotton shot.”
“My dad taught me that,” Westbrook shared in a Grantland interview in 2015. “It’s called that because of the cotton net at the park I grew up at. ‘All cotton’ is what my dad used to say. ‘All net.’ That cotton shot is all I practiced.”
While his attempts haven’t been “all cotton” as of yet, the tens of thousands of shots he fired away as a child are the exact looks he's being afforded in present day, only now he’s opting to use a window shot.
As his midrange shot chart illustrates, Westbrook has felt most at home when he’s been able to operate from the left side of the floor, using his bank shots predominately as an effective counter to drifting defenders as well as in isolation and post up possessions.
Westbrook’s early success going off glass likely shouldn’t be viewed as a precursor of him transforming into a modern day Tim Duncan. In fact, Westbrook has sometimes been too bank-happy when it comes to his midrange looks.
This has been most commonly seen when he’s attempted to use the backboard at difficult angles, while drifting away, and simply within instances where the correct shot is the one going toward the net rather than behind from it.
Perhaps this tendency to seek out the glass even during inopportune times may be due to his struggles with his traditional stroke. Similar to how a poor free-throw shooter will sometimes attempt to avoid contact in order to steer clear of the charity stripe, Westbrook may be avoiding traditional makes because the results on his bankers have been so much better.
Or maybe not. Because after all, Westbrook is a player who lives, breathes and plays exactly like his motto suggests — Why not?
“One thing about Russ is that he has no conscience,” Anthony Davis recently said of his co-star, who drilled two clutch jumpers during the team’s overtime win over the Heat. “He can miss 20 in a row and he’s going to shoot the next one...he’s fearless, relentless.”
The boldness and confidence Westbrook plays the game with is a huge reason for the success he’s had during his career, but are also a double-edged sword, occasionally making him as dangerous to his team as he is to their opponents.
Although his jump-shooting will likely never get to a point where defenses will have to change their scouting reports to adjust, Westbrook will keep letting it fly. For better or for worse. It’s what he has always done.
From the kid practicing elbow jumpers with his dad, to the veteran sizing up his defenders and eating up the space they laid at his feet, those swishes are few and far between nowadays, but the bank is still open, and Westbrook is making damn sure the lights stay on.
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