There's a difference between a player who can shoot 3s and a 3-point shooter.
In the Thunder's case, it's the difference between Russell Westbrook and Daequan Cook.
Cook's jumper is a repeated, rhythmic stroke. Westbrook's shooting motion looks a little off-beat.
Westbrook's jumper seems like it gets stuck in his hand rather than floating off the fingertips. The ball's rotation is at warp speed and 99.3 percent of the time the shot looks like it will fall short of the mark.
But when the ball rips through the net, Westbrook's defender instantly wears an expression that says, "Oh, no. How do I possibly defend this guy if he starts making 3s?"
Westbrook's teammates chuckle at the thought.
Cook: "It's going to be a long night. No way to stop him. Just do the best you can."
Backup guard Eric Maynor: "You can't do nothin'. There's no way you can stop him."
Coach Scott Brooks: "Good luck."
A 22-year-old budding superstar considered the fastest player in the league when in attack mode, Westbrook now has added the occasional 3-ball to his arsenal and opponents are starting to be victimized.
Ask Utah, where Westbrook went 4 for 4 beyond the arc on Feb. 5; or Boston, where he was 2 for 3 on Nov. 19; or New Orleans, against which he went 4 for 6 in back-to-back games; or Portland, which just got torched by a 4-for-5 performance last Sunday night.
No matter what form the jumper is shot, all that matters is if it falls. For Westbrook, 3-pointers have been falling at a higher success rate lately. In March, he shot 47.8 percent from 3-point range and the Thunder assembled a franchise-record 14-2 mark.
The Thunder and Portland play Friday at 9 p.m. in the Rose Garden. Westbrook has scorched the Trail Blazers this season for 30.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals in three victories.
In the first game against Portland, Westbrook went 0 for 5 from 3-point range. Since then, he's gone 5 for 6 against the Blazers.
Shooting 35.0 percent from 3-point range is considered the line of demarcation for acceptability among point guards, which is the neighborhood where Westbrook currently stands.
After starting the season 1 for 12 (.083) beyond the arc, Westbrook is now shooting 34.8 percent.
Perhaps most impressive about Westbrook's 3-point shot is that he shoots it sparingly. He has taken just 89 attempts in 74 games – an average of 1.2 per contest – highly commendable for a point guard in possession of the ball as much as Westbrook.
Each morning, roughly an hour before practice starts, there is a four-man shootout beyond the 3-point arc involving Westbrook, Cook, Maynor and James Harden.
Three shooting competitions are held, which guarantees at least one player will be winless every day.
"It's a competition for bragging rights," Maynor explained. "Whoever doesn't win is going to get picked on – for the rest of that day and into the next morning. Sometimes it'll be two people that go winless, but we do that every day."
Asked who leads the overall standings, Maynor said the winners "are spread pretty evenly."
Westbrook said repetition and confidence have spurred his improvement.
"If you keep shooting them, you feel more comfortable shooting them," Westbrook said. "Even if you're just joking around before practice."
All of Westbrook's shooting numbers are up considerably from last year (see chart), particularly in 3-point shooting, where Westbrook threw bricks at 22.1 percent his NBA sophomore season.
Westbrook shot 35.4 percent from 3-point range at UCLA, where the arc was at a measly 19 feet, 9 inches compared to the 23-foot, 9-inch measurement in the NBA (22 feet in the corners).
As is the case whenever Westbrook puts his mind to something, results come briskly.
Westbrook said he doesn't try to impersonate how Cook, Kevin Durant or anyone else shoots. "A lot of his shots are off the dribble. Mine are more catch-and-shoot. It's totally different," Cook said. "He practices a lot different than me."
Westbrook does it his way. "You just have to shoot them with confidence," he said.
Improved 3-point shooting is the latest stage in Westbrook's quest to become the league's premier point guard, but he said 3-point shooting has never been a priority.
"The 3-point shot is overrated, to me," Westbrook said. "There are not a lot of top 10 guys who shoot a high percentage from the 3. I always knew I could shoot them, I just choose not to shoot them. If I can get a better shot, maybe from 15 feet, I'd rather shoot that shot all day than a 3."
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.