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On Our Offense: Backcourt Musings

Following up my earlier post I wanted to shift the attention to our offense. We have already discussed two issues to death here on BN:

  • Kevin Love needs more touches
  • Josh Shipp needs to make his threes
I wanted to zero in my thoughts some where else. And it is about our backcourt. If you didn't read it few weeks ago, you must read Meriones post re thinning of our backcourt.

I know lot of folks have come down on Roll for not lighting up from behind the arc. But as Meriones articulated in that post we have really missed Roll's 15-20 mins from our regular rotation this year because it has put more strain on DC and RW.

From watching the fist halves against Stanford and Cal at least to me it appeared both DC and RW were somewhat tentative in the first halves of those games until the crunch time in the second half we really needed them to take charge of our offense:

Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld

I think from now on we really need DC and RW to be lot more assertive and decisive out of the gate in every game. Speaking of these two there was a pretty good read in the ESPN magazine that highlighted some of the elite backcourt combo in the country. Here are what some Pac-10 coaches had to say about our (at least in my book first team All pac-10) backcourt:
Assistant No. 1
Collison is Ben Howland's extension on the floor. When the play breaks down and it's late on the shot clock, Darren is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the country. But the biggest thing about him is that he's a great penetrator who can finish at the rim or shoot the floater in the paint.

Assistant No. 2
The thing with Westbrook is that it's tough to beat his intensity. You have to match his physical play, not just defensively but on the glass, because he's a tremendous offensive rebounder. Is he a great shooter? No. But he's one of the better midrange-shooting guards in our league.

Assistant No. 1
Collison has two Final Fours on his résumé, so he knows what it takes to get there. Westbrook is a great player, but Collison is their leader. And the bottom line is they're better together than with Westbrook running the point solo.

Assistant No. 2
I'm not quite ready to say Westbrook is better either. But I think he's the type of guy who can be an All-Pac-10 player, and maybe even Conference Player of the Year. That's the magic of Ben Howland: He turned the Collison loss into a positive, and now he's got a two-headed monster.
Well we need that two headed monster to bring the pain right from the tip off.

Speaking RW some interesting thoughts on him from DraftExpress (probably the only draft site I actually bother to click through every now and then):
Offensively, Westbrook's biggest source of production (nearly 30% of his offense) curiously comes in transition. He plays a fairly small role in UCLA's half-court offense (only 8% of his offense comes from either pick and roll or isolation plays) , mostly as a complimentary piece--moving off the ball trying to find holes in the defense to get to the rim with his tremendous strength and leaping ability, or shooting wide open jumpers. It's pretty clear when breaking down his footage that he lacks quite a bit of polish on this end of the floor, even if he is extremely effective at the few things he does well.

Westbrook's ball-handling skills are fairly limited, as he has the ability the beat players off the dribble with his tremendous first step going left or right, and is solid getting to the rim in a straight line, but he struggles when trying to do much more than that. He lacks the advanced dribbling skills needed to create his own shot and change directions sharply in the half-court (for example at the end of a shot clock), and thus often looks a bit out of control when dribbling in traffic, forcing him to flip up some awkward shots at the rim. It's not uncommon to see him called for various violations in the rare occasion that he tries to go out and make something happen on his own, be it traveling calls, palming or offensive fouls.

As far as his jump-shot is concerned, Westbrook is mostly a catch and shoot player, hitting only 18 3-pointers on the season (on a 34.6% clip), usually on open looks, in rhythm and with his feet set. His release is not the quickest or most fluid around, and he lacks accuracy when rushed or forced to shoot off the dribble. He has the potential to improve here, but his touch at the moment looks fairly average. In terms of his mid-range game, Westbrook doesn't show great polish here either, as his shot is a bit flat, and he doesn't always take advantage of his terrific leaping ability to create separation from his defender with his pull-up jumper. He seems to be showing more and more sparks as the season moves on here, though.

To Westbrook's credit, these flaws are not always very noticeable, as he is a very smart player who knows his limitations and has no problem fitting in and being just another cog in UCLA's very efficient offense. He plays within himself, rarely forcing the issue, and thus has done a very good job of not exposing his weaknesses within his team's  system. The fact that he has other highly efficient and extremely unselfish teammates like Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp has also helped him a great deal.

As a point guard, Westbrook is not an instinctive playmaker, but is very much capable of bringing the ball up the floor and getting his team into its offense. He is smart, patient, and highly unselfish, and possesses the court vision needed to find the open man without hesitation, picking up quite a few assists just by getting the ball to the right place in UCLA's half-court sets. He lacks some creativity when it comes to improvising outside of his team's offense, though, and it's here that his inexperience running the point guard position, along with his average ball-handling skills, seem to show the most. It should be noted that despite his very high assist totals (4.6 per game on the season, compared with just 2.7 turnovers), when taking into account only the most competitive games UCLA was involved with (the eleven which finished within a 10 point margin), his assists per game drop to 3.2, while his turnovers remain at 2.7.

Defensively, Westbrook is nothing short of outstanding, as evidenced by the phenomenal work he did locking down the three top scoring guards in the Pac-10 this season, O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and James Harden. He is long, strong and very fundamentally sound, getting into a terrific defensive stance on every possession, moving his feet incredibly well, and being absolutely tenacious getting after his matchup. His wingspan, combined with his huge hands and outstanding anticipation skills make him a terror in the passing lanes, and this is a big factor why he spends so much time in transition offensively.
BTW that is the last time I will bring up something related to NBA draft talk on the home page until our 2007-08 season is over. I think we will have plenty of time to speculate on all of that after the season. So I will ask everyone else not to lose sleep over that topic right now and wait at least the tourney season is over.

Anyway going back to those thoughts I think those assessments on RW's game is pretty much on the money. I agree with the observation that RW is very capable of brining the ball up the floor and getting his team-mates into the flow of the offense.

So here is a thought I will pitch here one more time. DC has been scorching from the 3 point line. He is shooting an astounding 51% from the three point line. In our last 6 games he has made 16 out his 22 3 point attempts shooting a RIDICULOUS 73%. So why not switch up DC to 2 guard at some point of the game and run set plays to open things up for him? We should probably run more set plays for him from the 3 than putting pressure on Shipp to connect on the long range bombs.

Yes again I know we need to run the offense through Love and we need Shipp to connect on a few. But I really think the key to our success is going to be DC and RW taking charge and attacking the opponent with gusto. If we can get DC to cut down on his dribbling a bit around the perimeter and slash to the hoop more often, I think he will create options either for himself or his team-mates. Same thing with Russell. The complexion of the game changes when Russell is driving more to the hoop. In a way Russell's game reminds me a lot of AA's game (RW is more athletic and explosive than AA I think). Last year AA entered the tourney in a shooting slump. But when he was struggling from outside he found a way to generate offense by driving to the hoop. We need more of that from RW.

Anyway, I think many of you have these thoughts going through your head already. I felt like getting them out of my mine. I am anxious for our boys to get it going. I don't really care who we play tomorrow night. Again I just hope we come out with a sense of purpose early and build on it from there on.