Oklahoma City Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook thrives in various aspects of the game. But he has one glaring flaw this year.
His career free throw percentage before this season was 82.2 percent, which is above average for someone at his position. But this year, he is currently shooting 57.6 percent from the charity stripe. How big of a concern is this for the reigning MVP?
Among players who have taken more than four free throw attempts per game, the only person who has a worse free throw percentage is Dwight Howard. We’re talking about the same Westbrook who recorded a triple-double last season without missing a field goal or a free throw attempt.
His team has made 5.7 more free throws per 100 attempts when he is off the court compared to when he is playing, according to one measurement. Based on NBA Math’s FATS Win Calculator, that’s a big enough difference to create 1.5 more wins over the course of a season.
There are a few aspects that come into play when looking at why this dip has happened. One explanation is that he is not taking as many attempts as usual and thus it’s taken him longer to find his rhythm.
According to Cleaning The Glass, Westbrook was fouled on at least 15.7 percent of his shot attempts during each of the previous three seasons. His rate this year has dropped to a career-low 12.6 percent.
As such, he is shooting 5.4 attempts per game. It’s his lowest mark since 2009-10, via Basketball-Reference. During his MVP campaign last year, Westbrook took 10.4 free throw attempts per game.
Without rhythm, it’s harder to find your groove. Plus, the smaller sample size makes it easier for some early misses to screw with his overall success rate.
Before the season, the league implemented a delay of game if the free throw shooter ventures beyond the three-point line between his attempts. As the Oklahoma City point guard recently explained to reporter Brett Dawson, this is something he had done since high school.
Fred Katz, who also reports about the team, notes Westbrook did try his original method to no avail (via Norman Transcript):
“Westbrook actually went back to his original routine for a moment Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers, toeing a small step beyond the 3-point line after his first of three free throws with 20.5 seconds remaining in an at-the-time four-point game. Officials did not call him for a delay of game, but he ended up missing all three of his attempts on that trip to the line.”
If that didn’t work, perhaps it’s the sign of an entirely different predicament. Head coach Billy Donovan said Westbrook will have to work through it himself, suggesting that the 28-year-old guard is the only one who knows why he isn’t having success on free throw attempts.
Donovan makes a solid argument in his assessment that the only person who can fix this problem is Westbrook. It’s likely a mental block for the six-time NBA All-Star, who should be trusted enough as a basketball player based on previous domination for us to believe he will get back on track sooner rather than later.
His fundamentals are not lost and he’s got a proven record as one of the game’s most elite athletes. He may be slumping right now but we shouldn’t expect it to last the entire season.