Hall of Famer Gary Payton Diagnoses Why Russell Westbrook Is Struggling With the Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to find any consistent footing through the first few months of the season. Much of which has seen criticism levied at star point guard Russell Westbrook‘s struggles to fit smoothly into the mix. Hall of Famer Gary Payton recently voiced what he believes plagues Westbrook from excelling in a Lakers’ uniform.

Russell Westbrook is struggling to fit in with the Lakers

When the Lakers acquired Westbrook, the team hoped it would feature him becoming a pivotal piece to sustained success.

Instead, Los Angeles has limped through the few months of the season, sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture. Injuries and COVID-19 related issues combined with inconsistent play, especially defensively, have hampered them.

Westbrook is putting up a productive campaign, averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 assists, and 8.1 assists while recording nine triple-doubles. However, the flashy numbers don’t mask his offensive issues as he’s shooting 30.2% from beyond the arc while committing 4.8 turnovers per contest, which is second-worst behind trailing James Harden.

The 33-year-old’s struggles have led to increasing concern that he may not be the fit that the Lakers envisioned. Despite that, Gary Payton believes he knows what is preventing Westbrook from finding his way in Los Angeles.

Hall of Famer Gary Payton diagnoses why Russell Westbrook is struggling with the Lakers

Through the first 38 games, it’s been a struggle for Westbrook to find his footing in a Lakers’ uniform.

It’s been a significant adjustment that the 33-year-old has ventured through much difficulty adapting to his reduced offensive role as the third scoring option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the constant shortcomings with his outside shooting and turnovers have only become more scrutinized.

All those factors have built a growing outside concern about whether he’s the right fit in Los Angeles. During a recent interview with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on the Volume’s The Draymond Green Show, Hall of Famer Gary Payton expressed that he believes Westbrook is simply overthinking on the court.

“I don’t think Russ is playing the way he should be playing,” Payton said. “It’s a new thing to him from going from being the man for so long and then you got to with AD and LeBron. You got to give them the ball. He’s so much dominant on the basketball that’s he’s not doing the things that he should be doing. I think he’s thinking too much.”

Payton’s stern assessment of Westbrook has been expressed by many others, including current players such as Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s often categorized as him playing at one speed with the inability to play at a reduced pace, especially in critical late-game moments.

However, the Hall of Fame point guard believes that the Lakers’ problem is much more than Westbrook. Payton thinks the injuries and the lack of ball movement when James is on the floor significantly contribute to the team’s shortcomings.

“I just think he thinks too much and they rely on LeBron so much that they are watching him,: Payton said. “They don’t play the [Warriors] play. Like with people cut and move and do that. They are watching the basketball too much.”

Several issues are plaguing the Lakers, and Westbrook’s play is near the top of the list. If they hope to vie for a championship, he will need to find his rhythm and fit within the fold.

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As frustrating as the first few months of the 2021-22 campaign have been, the Lakers still possess time on their side to turn it around.

Injuries haven’t allowed the Lakers to get the full scope of their roster as Anthony Davis is expected to miss at least a month with an MCL sprain in his left knee. Meanwhile, Kendrick Nunn has yet to play a single game due to a right knee bone bruise he suffered in the preseason.

LeBron James is playing at a remarkable level but will need to be much more than his play that lifts them toward NBA title contention. Westbrook must be a significant part of the puzzle, especially when Davis returns.

The clock is ticking, and Los Angeles needs their roster to finally gel together if they hope to have any realistic championship hopes.

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