As a phenomenal talent and California’s NBA son, Russell Westbrook has had an up and down career. Often cast in the shadow of Kevin Durant and his point guard peers, he’s polarizing. Aligning him with LeBron James and Anthony Davis was only going to bring more of the intense scrutiny that’s aligned Russ against fans and media.
Nothing has changed, as mentioned. The Brodie was supposed to be the buffer between in-season hiccups and keeping the Lakers team in the hunt. Those issues have included random injuries and nights where their two superstars couldn’t carry the load. Westbrook’s addition hasn’t been enough to bridge those gaps, indicated in the Lakers’ 16-18 record.
Saturday’s Christmas letdown was just another quintessential BAD Westbrook performance. He only scored on four of his 20 field goal attempts. In the waning moments, we watched him get hung by the rim in embarrassing fashion. If that was your first time watching the Lakers 2021 off-season prize, you had to have walked away disgusted.
Following his Christmas play, Westbrook answer media questions today and expressed his personal outlook as a Laker (h/t Michael Corvo of Clutch Points).
Russell Westbrook: "Honestly, I thinnk I've been fine … I think people are expecting me to have fuckin' 25, 15 and 15. That is not normal. That’s not a normal thing that people do consistently. I know I’ve done it the past 5 years, but that’s not normal."
— michael corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) December 27, 2021
Here is where Westbrook is wrong: no one is pressuring him to get his numbers. I do put emphasis on HIS numbers because he’s known for triple-doubles. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl Anthony Towns spoke to this in a recent interview with Twitch streamer Adin Ross (via Ball Is Life):
Thread: Here is @KarlTowns original full quote after being asked about Westbrook during a conversation about stats.
It ends with him praising Russ by saying how hard it is to get triple doubles.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 27, 2021
The Lakers need production, but more on the margins. The anticipated turnovers and bad shooting is somewhat acceptable as part of the Westbrook package. What isn’t acceptable is just downright head-scratching decisions. This includes leaving a scorching hot Patty Mills all by himself in the clutch. It’s driving into bigger defenders without the necessary angle to finish at the rim.
The problem is that we are 14 years in and the Lakers need him close to an elite level. When we say elite, it’s just a level that is enough to keep the Lakers afloat alongside LeBron currently. Therein lies the challenge of their fit together. The combination of the team’s best initiators has long been in question because it’s only one ball. Russ made his name putting pressure on the rim, and so has LeBron. Despite both of their abilities diminishing a little, they still sit a cut above most players at their positions. There’s elements of reinvention that can be considered to adapt and reach the success they want.
On top of that, there has to be someone willing to sacrifice some of their game. LeBron is so important, you almost can’t ask him to scale back. For Russ, I think it’s more than fair to do so. LeBron hasn’t had this kind of talent at his disposal, and it’s been a while for Russ. Per StatMuse.com, his usage rate is down to 27.9 from 30.2 last season. It’s the third lowest usage rate since his second season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When the Lakers went all in for Westbrook, everyone perceived this as a championship or bust season. Several injuries and other factors left a door open for the Lakers to make a title run. But now, their own injuries, COVID-19, and the inconsistency of Westbrook are piling on those chances. Saturday’s loss was emblematic of their season. Hopefully it serves as a reflection point for Russ and could help him in the long run. If it is not, the Lakers have a growing problem and the storm to be weathered continues to worsen.