Russell Westbrook Is Finally Acknowledging He Has to Change His Ways, but His Actions Will Ultimately Define the Los Angeles Lakers Season
For many fans of the Purple and Gold, the Los Angeles Lakers‘ troubling season can be attributed to one man — Russell Westbrook.
Even though LA has numerous reasons for why the 2021-22 season hasn’t gone as planned, Westbrook is the face of its issues. The Lakers acquired him to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the third All-Star, but the former MVP has hurt the team with turnovers, missed shots, and poor chemistry.
With a 21-21 record, the Lakers can no longer say they have plenty of time to figure things out. It’s time for a change in LA, starting with Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook’s first season in LA has been nothing short of disastrous
Westbrook’s stats are a perfect example of how sometimes, numbers are misleading.
The 33-year-old is leading the NBA with nine triple-doubles and is nearly averaging one again for the season. One of the few players to play in every game this season, Russ is averaging a solid 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.1 assists.
But the positives stop there.
First, there are the turnovers. Westbrook alarmed fans with a league-leading 23 turnovers in four games during the preseason. But his propensity to give away the rock carried over into the regular season, where he registered nine and 10 turnovers in two of his first five contests.
The high number of giveaways would continue until January 4 against the Sacramento Kings, when Westbrook had his first turnover-free game of the season and first overall since March 14, 2016, a streak of 407 games.
Russ deserves some credit for cutting down on turnovers. The nine-time All-Star has lowered his season average to 4.4 per game and has just four giveaways over his last four games. That being said, his shooting woes have now taken center stage instead.
Never considered a great shooter, Westbrook is hitting just 28.8% of his 3-point attempts. His field-goal percentage is also only 43.7%, his lowest since 2018-19 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the last three games have been especially brutal for Brodie, as he’s negated his turnover-free play with shooting nights of 4-of-14, 2-of-12, and 2-of-14.
Westbrook admitted he needs to make adjustments
The turnovers and missed shots are nothing new to Westbrook. His field-goal percentage and turnover numbers are right in line with his current 14-year average. But while the highs and lows may have been OK when he was carrying the Thunder or playing pressure-free games with the Washington Wizards, playing on a team with LeBron automatically intensifies the level of scrutiny.
In an interview with The Athletic, Westbrook admitted this season hasn’t gone as expected and how he needs to be the one making the biggest adjustments.
“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?’ 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.”Russell Westbrook
“Trying to figure it out,” Westbrook also added when asked about how he’s been used by the Lakers. “I mean, we still don’t have the answer. We changed the way we play a couple of times. Just for me, it’s trying to figure out the best way to be able to implement how I play the game with this team.”
It’s time for Westbrook to truly change if the Los Angeles Lakers are going to salvage the season
At first, Westbrook and the rest of his teammates weren’t concerned about any early-season slumps. But LA is officially over halfway done with this season. And at this rate, no one is looking at the Purple and Gold and seeing a championship contender.
It’s promising that Westbrook wants to sacrifice. And he’s absolutely right. Even with Davis still recovering from a knee sprain, Russ needs to take a backseat in the offense. That means no more ill-advised threes or midrange bank shots that hit nothing but backboard. There are simply better shooters on the team who need more opportunities to score.
However, talk and action are two entirely separate things.
Westbrook knew there was going to be a level of sacrifice upon joining the Lakers, as The Athletic had previously detailed over the summer. Yet that hasn’t stopped Russ from trying to take command of an offense that already features one of the greatest scorers and playmakers of all time.
For LA to truly right the ship and finish the season strong, Westbrook must accept he is not the first, second, or even third option on this team. Even if his team-leading $44 million salary says he is. At this point, his role should be to push the Lakers in transition, find open shooters, and be active on defense. That’s not to say he can’t ever score, but there has to be a serious re-evaluation of his shot selection.
Will Westbrook live up to his salary being a role player? Of course not. But the value he’ll provide will translate to wins a lot more than what he’s providing now.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.