Russell Westbrook Is Working to Silence the Many Critics The Only Way He Knows How
The first few months of the 2021-22 campaign have featured plenty of bumps for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers’ shortcomings have predictably led to significant criticism levied toward guard Russell Westbrook as he struggled to adjust to his new role. The star point guard is responding to the outside noise the only way he knows how.
Russell Westbrook is struggling to fit in with the Lakers
The Lakers acquired the former league MVP hoping that he could be the missing piece toward pushing the franchise back into NBA title contention.
Through the first 39 games, Los Angeles hasn’t looked any bit the part of a championship-contending team. Injuries and COVID-19 related issues have impacted them, but it’s also shined the spotlight on Westbrook’s struggles as he’s stumbled to find consistency as the team’s third scoring option.
His role fluctuating due to injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis haven’t helped, but his shooting struggles (30.0% from 3-point range) and turnovers (4.6) have become more glaringly obvious. His nine-turnover game in Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves led him to defend himself against the growing criticism.
“My game, you know, is fine,” Westbrook said via Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “My game is not predicated on shots or if I turn the ball over. Like, I miss some shots, that’s part of the game. I’m allowed to miss shots. I can do that. Like any other player, I can do that. I can turn the ball over, too. I can do that. That’s all a part of the game.”
It didn’t take long for the nine-time All-Star to take a step toward quieting the critics.
Russell Westbrook is working to silence the many critics the only way he knows how
Westbrook’s first few months in a Lakers uniform have been filled with criticism of his inconsistent performance.
Los Angeles’ struggles have only ramped up the noise, leading to more blame placed on his shoulder for the team’s shortcomings. After recording nine turnovers in Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves, Westbrook responded with 19 points and seven rebounds along with zero turnovers in Tuesday’s win over the Kings, marking his first game without a turnover since March 14, 2016.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it also signaled the end of a 407-game streak with a turnover, the longest stretch since the NBA began tracking turnovers in the 1977-78 season. After Tuesday’s game, Westbrook reiterated that his impact on the game goes far beyond statistics.
“If you watch the game, and I’m not saying that you don’t, but people outside if you don’t watch the full game and just look at the stat sheet then you are not actually sure what happens in the game whether it’s offensive rebounds or defensive stops or being in the right spot,” Westbrook said. “Doing other things that impact winning, but you wouldn’t know, so that is definitely what I was talking about.”
Westbrook’s playing style has drawn plenty of criticism stemming from the notion that he plays at only one speed, struggling to slow his pace and sharpening his decision-making in crucial late-game situations. Meanwhile, he’s become an elite all-around contributor who can have a significant impact through his passing and rebounding beyond his scoring ability.
The 33-year-old will continue to hear the negative chatter the more he struggles to reduce his turnovers coupled with the Lakers’ shortcomings. At this point, Westbrook has heard it all, and the only way he can silence it will be through his play.
Lakers are taking progressive strides forward
The Lakers have struggled to find any essence of consistency, but the team has taken some recent strides forward.
Los Angeles has won its last three straight games, including four out of the previous five contests. The lone loss featured letting a double-digit second-half lead dissipate on the road against a tough Memphis Grizzlies team.
Much of the team’s success has come behind LeBron James’ remarkable play as he’s averaging 28.6 points. It includes becoming the first player age 36 or older to post seven straight 30-point performances. He also leads the league with 16 games with 30 or more points despite playing in only 27 contests.
Meanwhile, Malik Monk has stepped up in an increased role, posting 20 or more points in four out of the last six games. Los Angeles will need an increased collective effort with Davis sidelined if they hope to create positive momentum climbing up the Western Conference standings.
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