Russell Westbrook’s Shooting Struggles Stem From the Same Fatal Flaw Plaguing Ben Simmons, According to Tom Haberstroh

Russell Westbrook has done a lot of things well throughout the course of his 14-year career. Shooting, however, has historically never been one of them.

Watch any Los Angeles Lakers game and you’ll notice Westbrook taking inefficient shots that end up clanking off the rim, hitting the side of the backboard, or missing everything altogether. He’s even earned the nickname “Westbrick” from certain critics and fans.

While this year has been particularly rough for Russ, he’s never had a great jump shot in comparison to other NBA stars. Why is that? According to basketball analyst Tom Haberstroh, the reasoning could be the same issue potentially plaguing Ben Simmons, the All-Star guard for the Brooklyn Nets with a non-existent jumper.

Russell Westbrook has struggled to become a consistent jump shooter

Since entering the league with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008, Westbrook has played an athletic, downhill style of basketball. Few players in NBA history have been able to attack the rim with the same level of strength and intensity as the 2016-17 MVP.

But when Russ isn’t attacking the basket, he’s pulling up for shots that are destined to miss.

The 33-year-old is shooting 43.8% from the field this season, 0.1 points higher than his career average. He’s still hitting 55.7% of his shots from within five feet, but a combined 33.3% from everywhere else. That includes a dismal three-point percentage that as of Friday sits at a dismal 29.4%.

According to NBA.com, 44.0% of Russ’ attempts are either pull-ups or catch-and-shoots. He’s shooting 32.1% on those shots, compared to 52.2% on the shots that come within 10 feet.

He’s also a historically bad three-point shooter. Among all 165 players in NBA history with at least 2,500 career three-point attempts (Westbrook has 3,726 as of Friday), the Lakers guard is ranked 165th in three-point percentage at 30.5%.

Westbrook isn’t the only All-Star who struggles from distance. Simmons, who’s yet to make his season debut, is no threat from three and barely a threat in the mid-range game. While Russ still attempts the shots that elude him, Ben avoids them altogether, with 91.4% of his field-goal attempts last season coming within 10 feet of the basket.

Could Russell Westbrook actually be shooting with the wrong hand?

JJ Redick was a teammate of Simmons’ for two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Within that time, Redick became convinced that Simmons, who shoots left-handed, actually should have been shooting with his right hand.

“He disagrees with me, but when I watch him write, he does it with his right hand,” Redick said on a recent episode of Pardon My Take. “If I asked him to throw, he would do it with his right hand. Even when he jumps, not all of them, but a lot of his dunks, he jumps off his left foot. That’s what a right-handed person does. And I’ve watched him shoot, and the form more resembles a proper shot than with his left hand. I think he’s a right-handed person that actually shoots the basketball left-handed.”

So if Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand, is it possible that other players are too? It’s not just possible, it’s likely, according to Meadowlark Media’s Tom Haberstroh.

Haberstroh, a former NBA insider for ESPN and NBC, took a deep dive into Westbrook’s shooting on a new episode of his podcast Basketball Illuminati. The longtime analyst poured through video of every single one of Russ’ shots near the basket in 2021-22 and calculated the results:

  • Westbrook has hit approximately 57% of his left-handed shots near the basket and only 51% of his right-handed shots. This is despite attempting almost twice as many shots with his right (261) than left (138).
  • Driving left, Russ is making 61% of his attempts that come off his left hand. When he goes left but uses his right-hand, he’s making just 49%.
  • He has a higher percentage of blocked shots proportionately when he goes right vs. left.
  • He also has fewer “And-1’s” going right than left, implying that he is finishing stronger through contact on the left side.

The data shows that Westbrook is far more efficient when shots leave off of his left hand than right. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the nine-time All-Star is actually left-handed.

No, really. Just ask Royce Young, who confirmed as much in an in-depth Westbrook piece for ESPN in 2016.

“Westbrook does everything with his left hand,” Young wrote. “Sign autographs, brush his teeth, throw a football — except shoot a basketball.”

Forget about Simmons. Given what we know about Westbrook’s off-court handedness, his weak outside shooting, and his strengths near the basket, there’s a good chance that the guard will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame following a career spent relying on the wrong hand.

Teams should lean more into Westbrook’s strengths

This might come as a shock to you, but Westbrook is resistant to changing his ways. There’s a reason he’s taken over 3,700 threes despite never being good at them. So asking him to suddenly start shooting with his left hand is far easier said than done.

Instead, whoever is coaching Russ moving forward can put the star guard in a role better suited for him.

LA made the mistake of acquiring Westbrook over a prototypical catch-and-shooter who’s tailored for playing alongside LeBron James. Clearly, that was a miscalculation. But it’s not all his fault. He was simply put in a role he isn’t equipped to handle.

Moving forward, teams should look at Westbrook as a guard with a high basketball IQ who can still run with the best of them. By surrounding him with elite shooters and having him drive to the hoop on a more regular basis, teams can unlock a more efficient star than the one we’ve seen in 2021-22 and years prior.

It also wouldn’t hurt for coaches to push for Westbrook to drive to his left a little more.

At some point in the near future, Russ will have to adapt one way or another. But it actually might be worth his time to see what it’s like shooting with his left hand over the course of a long offseason.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise mentioned.

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