You may not have noticed it, but Russell Westbrook has been working on his post-up game for quite some time. Year after year, he’s been taking his game down to the block more and more often, and he’s become incrementally better at it with each passing season. Every year, there’s been a little more refinement, a little more nuance, a little more of a plan. He’s still got a ways to go before he’s one of the elite post-up guards (let alone post-up players) in the league, but he’s slowly working his way there.
In the 2009-10 season, Westbrook’s post game was mostly a mess. His footwork was terrible, he had absolutely no plan when he got the ball, and it often seemed like he was thinking, “I’m taller, stronger and more athletic than this guy, so it would probably be a decent idea to post him up. Hey look! I’m posting up! This is cool. Wow. Now what do I do?” before haphazardly making some move or another that he thought he’d seen other players try.
His repertoire mostly consisted of out-of-control fade-aways and telegraphed jaunts to the rim. He got his shot blocked a lot, barely drew any fouls and generally looked like he had no idea what he was doing. But every once in a while, he’d flash something that made you see why the post-up game could become an important weapon for him. A drop-step jumper. An up-and-under layup. They were few and far between, but there for the taking when he attacked with purpose.
The next season, there were slightly fewer kinks. He still threw up his fair share of off-balance fade-aways, but he seemed to have a better understanding of when and how to attack his defender. Of course, not everything worked out perfectly. There were times where he’d make a good move to get into the lane and unnecessarily fade away, or he’d go up with the wrong hand when he should have had an easy bucket, as in the first two clips below.
But then you see that third clip, and again you realize that if Westbrook could ever figure out what he’s doing down there, he could be really successful.
Again in the 2011-12 season he took a bunch of those ugly, off-balance fade-aways from the post. But mixed in with those, there were also far more flashes of brilliance. An inside shoulder dip/drop-step combo leading to a straight up and down baseline jumper. Purposeful fades to get separation from a defender rather than just because they look like what you’re supposed to do in the post. And a beautiful face-up rocker step that lulled Tony Parker to sleep.
It was that face up move that likely spurred on what we’ve seen from Westbrook out of the post this season. Whereas in years past, backing his man down and spinning for a fade-away was his go-to move, this year we’ve seen far more face up drives, rocker steps and backdown drop-steps. The fade-away is still there, and sometimes it still looks terrible, but he’s using it more judiciously.
From the video I watched, I’d estimate that about 65 to 70 percent of his shots out of the post from 2009-10 through 2011-12 were fade-aways. This year, just 10 of his 27 post-up plays have ended with fade-away jumpers. He’s gone to the drop-step 10 times, the face-up rocker step twice, face-up drive three times and a face-up jumper once. He’s using his body to get where he wants on the floor, making good use of pump-fakes to get even closer to the rim, and generally attacking with more purpose.
He’s being smarter, using his physical attributes to his advantage better than he has in years past and making a conscious effort to take better shots. Fewer predetermined moves and more reading the defense. Fewer fade-aways, more going to the rim. He’s realized that his speed and quickness can be used to his advantage more when he faces his man up. He knows he can use his strength as more of a weapon when he’s trying to get to the rim and it becomes useless when he just fades away.
His post game has been years in the making. It’s still in the making, frankly. He’s still shooting just 41.7%, so it’s not like he’s great yet. But he’s getting there, slowly but surely.