The Los Angeles Lakers headed into this season knowing that trade for Russell Westbrook would shake up the team. As expected, Westbrook has struggled to find his footing early on, especially in his disappointing performance in the season opener against the Golden State Warriors. However, the Lakers are taking a unique approach to help Westbrook find his offensive fluidity.
Russell Westbrook and Lakers stumble in the season opener against the Warriors
The Lakers entered the 2021-22 season opener with plenty of optimism toward a strong start.
Los Angeles showed some flashes of promise behind the stellar play of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, each recording 30-point performances. James excelled with efficient outside shooting, hitting 5-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Warriors had no answer defending Davis as he worked effectively to find his shot.
However, the same couldn’t be said for Westbrook, as he struggled to find any consistency with his scoring. His turnovers continued to be a problem (four) while he shot only 4-of-13 from the field, missing all four 3-point attempts. He finished the night with the game’s worst plus-minus (-23).
Westbrook missed a few shots at the rim that he usually makes, but there wasn’t any fluidity to his role within the offense. After the loss, James voiced that he hopes the star point guard won’t stress over lackluster his performance.
“I told Russ to go home and watch a comedy,” James said via ESPN. “Put a smile on his face. Don’t be so hard on himself.”
As the Lakers move forward into this season, the team is embracing attempting an alternative approach to help Westbrook find his offensive groove.
Lakers are going outside the box to make Russell Westbrook work following disastrous LA debut
It didn’t come as much of a surprise to see Westbrook struggle to find his footing in his first official game as a Laker.
Los Angeles knew bringing board the star point guard would result in a massive adjustment as he moves into a third-option offensive role. Beyond that, Westbrook needs to find his comfortable offensive pocket for scoring alongside James and Davis.
Days before the season opener, Vogel voiced that the former league MVP holds the “green light” for catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. At the same time, he expressed that he wants the 32-year-old to play smart when shooting in those scenarios.
“Obviously be smart about making opponents pay [when they go under screens],” Vogel said via Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll. “And shooting enough to get rhythm threes without forcing it and without doing it too often. We just don’t want to live off that, but we want him to be aggressive in catch-and-shoot situations when those other guys have the ball.”
It’s a significant change for Westbrook as he’s been a player that’s found his offense through his creation. According to Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype, the star guard holds a career average of 4.2 points per game on jump shots off the dribble to only 1.3 points per contest in catch-and-shoot situations.
Vogel isn’t asking for a total change to Westbrook’s game, but it’s a part of his approach that the team wants to explore further. The Lakers want to do whatever they can possible to make Westbrook comfortable on the floor.
There are many moving pieces to the puzzle for Westbrook, and it simply comes down to him finding what works through getting more games under his belt in Los Angeles.
Lakers remain a work in progress
The adjustments to Westbrook‘s game are just a singular part of the puzzle for the Lakers as the team works through various changes.
It will be a tough transition for the All-Star guard, requiring much offensive sacrifice and swallowing his pride. Meanwhile, the Lakers are also finding what rotations work best to get the most out of their roster.
All that is compounded by injuries, as key contributors Talen Horton-Tucker and Trevor Ariza are both sidelined. The Lakers will experience their peaks and valleys; it’s a matter of working through them.