Los Angeles Lakers stars LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are close friends. Their relationship goes well beyond basketball, which is why the Lakers were excited to acquire Westbrook from the Washington Wizards since LeBron won two championships with two of his other pals, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, on the Miami Heat.
However, the Westbrook experiment hasn’t gone well for the Lakers, who are only 21-21 on the season. If the playoffs started today, Los Angeles would be in the play-in tournament for the second consecutive year despite the brilliance of LeBron, who is putting up ridiculous numbers in his 19th campaign and supported Westbrook but also touched on the guard’s biggest flaw.
LeBron James on Russell Westbrook: “He’s getting some really good looks. It’s just not going down for him”
Westbrook can’t throw a ball into an ocean right now. The one-time MVP is shooting 29.3% from the field over his last five games and hasn’t made a single shot from beyond the arc. After going 2-of-14 against the Sacramento Kings on January 12, Westbrook said, “I can’t make a fu**ing shot. I’ll figure it out, and that’s that. Figure out ways to just make a fu**ing shot. That’s it.”
LeBron, who has scored at least 25 points in 12 straight games, supported his struggling teammate following the Kings game. However, he also basically summarized Westbrook’s career.
“Just keep working with him,” LeBron said. “Obviously, he’s been putting in work, and you’re going trust the work you put into it. He’s getting some really good looks. It’s just not going down for him.”
That last part of LeBron’s quote is the story of Westbrook’s career. Teams always leave him open from the perimeter, and the nine-time All-Star usually bricks open shots. Westbrook shoots 43.7% from the field and 30.5% from beyond the arc for his career. Add to the fact that he leads the league in turnovers this season, and it’s easy to see why the Lakers are a better team when Westbrook is on the bench.
The Lakers should have never traded for Westbrook. To win with LeBron, you need guys around him who can shoot since the four-time champion collapses defenses when he has the ball and is a brilliant passer. No team will trade for Westbrook since he’s making $44.2 million this season and playing poorly, so the Lakers have to pray that their starting point guard honors his word.
Russell Westbrook: “I know I’m the one who has got to make the biggest sacrifice”
If you look at his numbers, you would think Westbrook is having a great season. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.1 assists and has played in every game for the Lakers.
However, Westbrook is shooting 43.7% overall, 28.8% from beyond the arc, and 65.6% from the free-throw line. He also leads the NBA in turnovers.
LeBron is playing at an unreal level for a player who is 37 and in his 19th season. It’s a shame the Lakers are only 21-21. LeBron would undoubtedly be in the MVP race if Los Angeles had a better record. There’s still time for the Lakers to figure things out, and Westbrook knows it starts with him.
“We’re all trying to figure it out as a team, as a unit, to be able to say, ‘Ok, how can we figure this out?'” Westbrook told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “And I know I’m the one who has got to make the biggest sacrifice — and I understand that — so I’ve got to be able to figure out a way to be able to make the best out of it and make the best for this team and that’s it.”
Westbrook won’t turn into a shooter overnight. He is who he is as a player at this stage of his career. The only thing LeBron and the Lakers can hope for is that Russ stops shooting those awful bank shots he bricks every game and 3-pointers and starts driving to the basket more.
LeBron James, Lakers need Brodie to drive more
Westbrook can get to the rim whenever he wants. LeBron and the Lakers’ coaching staff should urge the UCLA product to drive more instead of settling for jumpers he can’t make. Every jumper Westbrook takes, the opposing defense wins.
The Lakers haven’t been fully healthy all season, so LeBron wants to see what a whole group looks like. However, even the four-time MVP recognizes that this campaign has been up and down.
“We have 42 games now and 40 left, and we want to see what we’re made of,” LeBron said after the Kings game. “But it’s definitely been a roller coaster so far.”
It’s not LeBron’s fault Westbrook has played so inadequately this season. However, LBJ needs to put his friendship with the triple-double machine aside and challenge him to utilize his strengths more.