5. Westbrook’s paint dominance
Heading into the 2019-20 season, it was well known that Russell Westbrook is a force in the paint. Westbrook is unstoppable as it pertains to getting to the rim, as he has the speed, quickness, determination, and relentlessness to where he simply can’t be denied.
Westbrook has the ability to finish at the rim better than any point guard we’ve ever seen in league history, which has helped the Houston Rockets’ small-ball strategy. The Rockets have surrounded Russ with four 3-point shooters, which has given him the necessary space to punish opposing defenses in the paint.
Perkins has taken notice of this:
“What the Rockets are doing with this small ball [strategy] is they’re saying ‘try and stop Russell Westbrook in the paint.’ In his last 11 games, Westbrook has 270 points in the paint. The last person to do that is Shaquille O’Neal….no one stops him from getting to the paint. And I like it. It’s fun to watch and people really can’t guard [him]. They really can’t stop [him].”
The threat of Russ in the paint has been the catalyst of the small-ball offense, as it’s forced defenses to collapse the paint on him and leave a 3-point shooter open, or trust their rim-protecting big man to stay in front of Russ, which will never happen.
In this regard, it’s been the equivalent of Russ being a quarterback in a read-option offense, as he has the ability to make the right decision, whether it means taking it upon himself or putting the ball in the hands of one of his teammates who may have a better opportunity, due to defenses collapsing on him.
But there’s not a rim-protecting big man who can stop Russ from getting to the paint, and we’ve seen some of the best shot-blockers fail at preventing Russ to get to the cup. The Utah Jazz opted to put Rudy Gobert on The Brodie, and Russ torched him them for 39 points on 54.5 percent. In the same regard, the Los Angeles Lakers tried to put Anthony Davis on Russ, and it also proved to be ineffective, as the Houston Rockets guard gashed the Lakers for 41 points on 60.7 percent from the field.
Perkins is right in that opposing defenses haven’t been able to stop this strategy, as there’s simply not a center who can stay in front of Russ. Not only that, Russ has shown the ability to pick his spots and shoot higher-percentage shots, which explains why he’s had his best field-goal percentage this season.
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