Even in a Lakers Win, Russell Westbrook Continues to Look Like LeBron James’ Worst Idea Ever

The good news for the Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony led the charge, and they snapped a two-game losing streak on Nov. 8 with an overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets. With LeBron James sidelined with an abdominal strain, the Lakers need all the good news they can get. But even though LA got a much-needed victory, improving to 6–5, Russell Westbrook continues to prove the doubters correct about his fit with the club.

Westbrook posted his second triple-double of the season, extending his NBA career record to 186 in the process. But the statistical accumulation didn’t overshadow another in what has become an alarming string of poor performances by the 2016–17 NBA MVP.

Russell Westbrook shot poorly and turned the ball over often once again

In the win over the Hornets, Russell Westbrook contributed 17 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds for the Lakers. He also had three steals.

That was the bright side of the coin. But flip it over, and there is an ugly face showing. Not quadruple-double ugly, but close.

Westbrook’s 17 points came on 15 shots (5-of-15), and he turned the ball over seven times. One wouldn’t expect a nine-time All-NBA point guard in his 14th season to be leading the league in turnovers, but here we are. Westbrook is averaging 5.1 giveaways a night, one of the reasons LA is tied for 14th in the NBA, allowing 17.4 points per game off turnovers.

The positive is that they generate 20.7 points per game in that category, so even with Westbrook coughing up the orange at a near-record pace, the Lakers are still a plus-3.3 per game when the good, bad, and ugly get shuffled.

Charlotte did the Lakers a lot of favors on Nov. 8. The Hornets converted 15 LA turnovers into only six points, while the Lake Show poured in 33 points off the 18 giveaways Charlotte committed. If it seems mind-boggling to have to go to overtime in a game where you are plus-27 in points off turnovers, welcome to the 2021–22 Lakers.

It’s not the first time Westbrook has piled up turnovers, not by a long shot. But it’s the rate at which they are happening that raises several red flags.

Westbrook has never been protective of the ball

Russell Westbrook has been bad when he’s been good before. In his MVP season, he averaged 5.4 turnovers a game. His total of 438 that season is the second-highest in NBA history, yet he didn’t even lead the league. That’s because his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, James Harden, coughed up the rock 464 times the same year.

But this is where the turnover statistic gets alarming. In 2016–17, Westbrook had the highest usage rate in the NBA, 41.7%. His possessions ended with the defense taking the ball away 15.9% of the time.

This season, Westbrook’s usage rate is 29.4%. That’s the lowest rate since his second season in 2009–10. Conversely, his turnover percentage is a career-worst 20.3%.

Your point guard giving the ball away roughly once in every five possessions is suboptimal at best.

Overall, Westbrook averages 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in 35.6 minutes per game. He’s shooting 41.1% overall and 25.6% on 3.9 3-point attempts nightly. Even by Westbrook’s standards, that isn’t very good. He’s a career 30.5% shooter from long range.

Worse, the 33-year-old only makes 45.5% of his 2-point shots, his lowest figure since 2010-11. And his free-throw shooting is a career-low 64.2%, continuing a downward trend that began in 2017–18. Westbrook topped 80% from the line eight times in his first nine seasons. Since then, he’s made only 70.2%. Somewhere along the way, it went from momentary yips to the new normal.

Russell Westbrook was the guy LeBron James wanted

Russell Westbrook had another free basketball giveaway night in the Lakers' overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets
Russell Westbrook had another free basketball giveaway night in the Lakers’ overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets. | Harry How/Getty Images

It’s an open secret that LeBron James has as much influence on his team’s personnel decisions as any NBA player. Anthony said during the offseason that it was James that recruited him to the Lakers, not vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka.

Pelinka reportedly had a deal in place to bring sharpshooting wing Buddy Hield to LA. In the blink of an eye, that trade vanished, and instead, two of the pieces reportedly heading to the Sacramento Kings — Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell — went to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Russell Westbrook. They also lost a top-notch perimeter defender in the trade, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

James turns 37 in late December. He feels more comfortable with players closer to his generation, which could explain why he wanted Westbrook instead of the soon-to-be 29-year-old Hield.

But the Lakers aren’t just experienced; they’re ancient, as in on pace to be the oldest team in NBA history with an average age of 32.3. The only other teams with an average age of 32 or older lost in the first round of the playoffs.

LA had to go through the play-in tournament last year to make the bracket. So that’s another troubling sign.

Russell Westbrook is an all-time great player. He earned his spot on the NBA 75th anniversary team. But his fit with the Lakers isn’t looking any better on the court than it did on paper. It’s beginning to feel like whatever LA accomplishes this season will be despite Westbrook rather than because of him.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference, Stathead, and NBA.com.

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