Welcome to Court Vision, a weekly video-based breakdown column on emerging trends around the NBA that you might have missed.
Russell Westbrook's futility from deep
It's not like Russell Westbrook's been a prolific shooter at any point during his career, but his jumper's more broken than ever this season.
In fact, nobody in NBA history's been this inaccurate from 3-point range while attempting so many of them - Westbrook's hit just 23.6 percent of his threes on 4.8 attempts per game.
Overall, his shot chart for this season resembles a Philip Guston abstract painting:
(Photo courtesy: NBA Stats)
The long-range numbers are terrible no matter how you slice them. Westbrook's made 22 percent of catch-and-shoot threes compared to 23 percent of pull-up looks. And it hardly makes a difference if he's open or guarded, as he's hit 27 percent of 3-point attempts without a defender within 6 feet compared to 23 percent with a defender nearby.
And yet, Westbrook insists on jacking quick threes like he's Stephen Curry. These can't possibly be looks that coach Billy Donovan approves of, but chances are Donovan isn't the one calling the shots. Westbrook does what he wants, after all.
Having said all that, Westbrook's still enjoying a career year in just about every other aspect of his game. His playmaking's been nothing short of exceptional - he's creating 23.3 points off 10.1 assists per game - and he's been noticeably better on defense by being more selective when gambling for steals and ranking second in deflections per game (3.8).
Still, his outside shooting will need to improve for the Thunder to make any noise in the playoffs. OKC ranks 25th in 3-point makes and 30th in 3-point percentage, which means defenses can simply pack the paint to take away driving lanes and lobs to Steven Adams, hound the living daylight out of Paul George on the perimeter, and dare Westbrook to beat them from deep.
LaMarcus Aldridge stepping up on D
The San Antonio Spurs have reversed their fortunes by winning 11 of their last 14 games, and they own the league's fifth-best defense over that stretch.
LaMarcus Aldridge has played a big role in the turnaround, lifting the team with his work rate and hustle on defense. Look at this all-out effort against the Boston Celtics, during which Aldridge recovers to block Al Horford at the rim after initially running him off the 3-point line.
Gregg Popovich deserves credit for convincing Aldridge to make the overdue switch to playing center full time. According to Basketball Reference, Aldridge has logged 95 percent of his minutes at the five this season after he insisted on playing power forward for most of his career. He's now in position to contest more shots, and he's rising to that challenge.
Derrick White showing flashes
White's a plus defender despite being an average athlete. He gets by on intuition, as he's a disciplined and clever player who rarely falls for fakes. The 24-year-old was often matched up with Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard in the aforementioned contests and held those stars to a combined 37 points.
As a bonus, White's also growing more confident with his offense. He's steady on drives while being a crafty finisher when he gets to the basket, and he's thriving as a secondary playmaker next to DeMar DeRozan. Overall, White is the type of quick decision-maker who thrives in Popovich's system.
The reinvention of Norman Powell
In 2017, the Raptors signed Norman Powell to a four-year, $42-million contract after the former second-round pick had totaled a hair over 2,000 minutes across his first two NBA seasons. There were clearly expectations that he'd become a prominent contributor going forward.
However, Powell completely lost his way last season after signing the deal, as rookie OG Anunoby won the fifth spot in the starting lineup and Fred VanVleet bumped him out of the rotation entirely by emerging as a Sixth Man candidate. Powell finished the campaign as one of the least productive players in the NBA and then appeared in just 40 minutes across two playoff series. He simply had no role on the team anymore.
However, it's a different story this season, as Toronto's formerly vaunted bench mob is a mess. With Pascal Siakam in the starting lineup and C.J. Miles falling apart, the second unit is woefully short on shot creation. The team badly needs Powell again, and he's delivered since recovering from a shoulder injury.
After forming a bad habit of barrelling into defenders during his first few seasons, Powell's now taking a more measured approach on his drives. He's paying more attention to corner shooters and baseline cutters while also flashing some clever hesitation moves to create space around the basket. That's allowed Powell to improve his finishing in the restricted area from 59 percent last season to 71 percent in 2018-19.
The emergence of Powell has given the front office options ahead of the trade deadline. The Raptors have too many wings but sorely lack 3-point shooters and need dependable frontcourt depth. Anunoby and Delon Wright could become expendable trade chips if Powell maintains his current form.
The Bulls are so, so miserable
Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen is the worst type of disciplinarian. He expects players to kowtow to authority without actually giving them a reason to respect him - and his squad looks utterly broken.
Boylen's schemes are hopelessly outdated, too. The Bulls are walking the ball up the floor on every possession with the urgency of a DMV worker, Robin Lopez's comical hook shots have become the fulcrum of the offense, Wendell Carter's seen his minutes fluctuate while being asked to learn from the bench, and the other young players are checked out. Just look at their glazed stares during a 28-point loss to the Orlando Magic:
It's commendable that Boylen is trying to drill fundamentals into a young roster that was mostly undisciplined under Fred Hoiberg, but there has to be some give-and-take. He's going to lose the locker room (again) at this rate.