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Houston Rockets: Can Russell Westbrook become a 3-point corner specialist?

Despite impacting the game in many ways, Russell Westbrook’s style of play has often drawn mixed reviews from fans and analysts in his career. Can the Houston Rockets guard emerge as a 3-point corner specialist someday?

For over the last decade-plus, Houston Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook has successfully demonstrated why most analysts regard him as one the most dynamic players to ever grace the hardwood.

The 6’3″, 200-pound product — who once starred alongside Kevin Love at UCLA — possesses the ability to utilize his quickness and ultra-dynamic handles to blow by countless defenders en route to creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.

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Including himself in the process, as the eight-time All-Star’s willingness to repeatedly drive to the rim — and push the pace on nearly every possession resulting in a missed shot or turnover — has helped the reigning assist champion manufacture signature dunksand dimes for the past 11 NBA seasons and counting.

Yet in spite of showcasing the propensity to change games with his nonstop motor, Westbrook has often times struggled to produce similar results when operating away from the restricted area of the floor throughout his career.

Russell Westbrook 2018-19 shot chart pic.twitter.com/emRpxe0lTN

— StreetHistory (Ryan S) (@streethistory) July 7, 2019

That includes behind the 3-point line, as the 2016-17 NBA MVP has left many basketball fans and insiders to ponder over whether or not Clutch City’s newest acquisition can fully thrive playing off-the-ball beside James Harden.

Westbrook — who shot a red-hot 63.1 percent inside the restricted area last season — shot just 29 percent from beyond the arc in his final campaign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In spite of garnering over 5.5 3-point attempts per contest, as the 30-year-old produced his worst individual shooting clip from downtown since his second year in the league.

However, not all hope is lost among those directly tied to professional hoops circles, as one former teammate of Westbrook’s recently went on the record to discuss how The Brodie can find success.

On a recent episode of the Maybe I’m Crazy podcast with Joy Taylor last week, former Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson suggested how knocking down corner 3-point shots could help Westbrook get comfortable operating without the basketball within Mike D’Antoni‘s perimeter-oriented offense:

“The hardest thing to do in the NBA is to close out and keep your defender in front, even if he’s a non-shooter,” Watson said when immediately asked about Westbrook’s fit in Houston’s system. “If he’s a shooter, it’s more difficult. Imagine [Harden] coming down, getting a piece of the paint, kicking it out to the weak side, and now you have to make an attempt to close out [Westbrook] on a catch, with momentum attacking the basket.”

“Whether you close out short because you don’t think he can shoot, or you close out to touch, he is going to beat you to the paint. That’s where you are going to get dunks, lobs, free throws, and corner threes. He doesn’t have to be a great 3-point shooter. He has to be a great corner three-point shooter. If he becomes a great corner three-point shooter like P.J. Tucker has become then you [as an opposing team] have a serious problem.”

Although it remains to be seen how Westbrook and Harden will seek to divvy up the offensive workload among each other this season, Rockets fans shall be glad to know that the explosive combo guard has actually fared to be a much better 3-point shooter in spot-up situations than many of his critics might think.

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Particularly in the corner areas of the floor, as Watson’s theory could inspire Houston general manager Daryl Morey — and his analytics department — to fully examine how Westbrook can maximize offense in an area where he has been highly effective as a non-ball handler.

Despite only hoisting up 51 of his 411 3-point attempts from the corner last season, Westbrook converted 37.2 percent of his corner triples.

On the way to doing the majority of his damage from the right corner of the court, as the two-time All-NBA First Team selection — who played nearly 47 percent of his minutes as OKC’s 2-guard — shot 43.8 percent on 16 attempts from the designated area during the 2018-19 regular season.

Should Westbrook find a way to slightly revamp his shot selection, then there is a strong chance that the Rockets will pose a stifling challenge against any team standing in their way, as the player who generated 61.3 percent of his 3-pointers via assists last season will receive the chance to go to work in his most preferable spots to attack defenses next to Harden.

Another star who will willingly seek to find his good friend should he draw any double team and find No. 0 whenever he can, as staying ready to fire away from the corner and hitting the following shots could help Westbrook shift the narrative surrounding his game sooner than later in H-Town.

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