The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook hoping he could become a pivotal piece to their NBA title push. Instead, the first half of the 2021-22 campaign has featured more shortcomings than positive steps forward, with most of the criticism directed toward the nine-time All-Star. All that has led LeBron James to ignore the growing concerns regarding Russell Westbrook’s fit.
Russell Westbrook struggling to find his way with the Lakers
Westbrook’s return home hasn’t exactly unfolded the way the Lakers hoped.
The former league MVP has struggled to adjust to his role as the third scoring option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis (when healthy). He’s putting up all-around productive numbers, averaging 19.0 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds. However, he’s committing 4.5 turnovers per game and shooting only 29.8% from 3-point range.
Westbrook’s shortcomings have taken a larger spotlight due to his inability to find an effective spot alongside James. These issues have led the four-time NBA champion to come to his teammate’s defense.
LeBron James is stubbornly ignoring the huge concerns surrounding Russell Westbrook’s Lakers fit
The first 41 games of the season have been a flat-out struggle for the Lakers to find consistency.
A significant portion of the blame has been pushed toward Westbrook, as he’s struggled to provide any significant positive impact. Much of that concern lies with his lack of efficiency playing alongside LeBron James.
The two stars haven’t found stable cohesion, which James pinpointed that they have not been on the floor together enough.
“I think it’s half the season for our record, but it’s not half the season for us on the floor,” James said via Lakers Nation. “I haven’t played in half the games. So I think every game we continue to learn each other, we continue to see ways we can both help each other when we don’t have the ball.
“My impact in that sense knowing how much of a threat he is with the ball, I’ve been able to kind of take away when he’s on the floor being more of a pick-and-pop guy or pick-and-roll guy trusting him with the ball. And then when I have the ball, he’s done a pretty good job of being either in the dunker or payoff spots or on the perimeter.”
The 37-year-old has missed 12 games, significantly lessening the sample size. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis being sidelined hasn’t allowed Westbrook to play a defined role as the third offensive option.
The former league MVP has too often struggled to provide stable scoring production, especially with Davis injured. His ineffectiveness shooting from mid-range, hitting 35.2% on jump shots, has significantly limited his offensive impact. Westbrook remains a notable factor as a distributor, but his lack of efficient scoring consistency has hurt the Lakers the most.
James is correct to point out that he and the nine-time All-Star have effectively worked the pick-and-roll. The four-time league MVP’s size and mobility are a problem against opposing big men, while the 33-year-old has shown a keen ability to find off-the-ball scoring opportunities near the basket.
Westbrook’s shooting shortcomings have played a factor, but it’s an ongoing process that James is confident the two will figure out how to play off each other.
LeBron James will lean on his past experience playing with Kyrie Irving
It isn’t the first time that James has struggled to find cohesion playing alongside a dynamic point guard.
Although some of the parameters are different due to injuries and overall roster construction, the 17-time All-Star experienced shortcomings in his first year back with the Cavaliers in the 2014-15 campaign. Cleveland held a 21-20 record through the first 41 games, then found its stride behind a 12-game winning streak.
The Cavaliers finished with a 53-29 regular-season record followed by a deep playoff push to the NBA Finals. There are certainly notable differences in Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook’s games, but the two are ball-dominant point guards. It became a matter of each allowing the other to shine while picking spots to effectively work off each other.
In some respects, James can lean on his time playing alongside Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat. Wade was a ball-dominant guard that eventually found his spot alongside the star forward to achieve championship success.
The situations may not be entirely the same, but James has more than experience to feel highly confident he and Westbrook can find that much-needed balance.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.