As the smoke cleared after another Los Angeles Lakers loss to the cross-town Clippers, many storylines emerged with Russell Westbrook at the forefront. His LakeShow, for the second straight game, could not buy a bucket from long range. Kawhi Leonard voluntarily came off the bench without a back or hamstring injury. One former all-world point guard showed that he’s undergone a metamorphosis, ready to be a part of a championship engine.
No, this was not Westbrook.
His failure to register a field goal in a 103-97 loss was puzzling, and his proceeding mid-range jump shot late against the Trail Blazers on Sunday was just as mind-numbing. He’s fought hard at times on defense, but it hasn’t been nearly enough to validate having him out there with the offensive woes he has individually.
The Lakers didn’t bring him to Los Angeles via top dollar to be this version of a player.
On the other side of the hallway, another embattled point guard has been anything but a shell of himself in John Wall.
🔥 John Wall flashed his trademark speed and pace in his @LAClippers debut!
15 PTS | 4 REB | 3 AST pic.twitter.com/mvUFYrGly5
— NBA (@NBA) October 21, 2022
The two former all-stars weren’t matched up with each other, but they might as well have been. They will forever be linked after the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards agreed to an exchange them during the 2021 season. Wall spiraled into a bit of basketball purgatory for the taking Rockets, and Russ helped lead the Wizards to the playoffs.
A few seasons later, the roles are almost reversed. Wall finished Thursday’s win with a team-leading 15 points and three assists. Wall’s scoring included an array of finishing at the rim, and damn near automatic mid-range jumpers. Wall looked like a man that has put in a tremendous amount of work to reinvent himself. He wasn’t the guy doing 360-degree layups, but his burst looked nice. As mentioned, he walked into his jumper with the most confidence that I’ve seen in his career.
And then there was Russ.
Each of his 3-pointers were followed by a home crowd imploring he do anything but launch a shot. You could see the hesitance and pressing from your TV screens. Many of the team’s runs happened while he was on the bench. He didn’t finish the game, unlike Wall on the other side.
Given their history, it’s a valid question if Westbrook learned anything tonight from his peer. I doubt that he will because of his famed uber confidence and dogged determination to pull himself up. As a fan of the game, I hope that this is an opportunity for him to take a step back and recalibrate. Russ can become a version of what Wall has created. It will take a lot of humbling and self-reflection. This could be beneficial in extending his career rather than possibly being on his last good graces in the league.
When the league was nearly done with Wall and he experienced great tragedy off the floor, he dug deep. He fell back in love with the simplicity of playing the game that made him famous. He found joy in darkness. This allowed him to embrace whatever was next in his career.
Last season’s debacle for Russ isn’t exactly comparable to Wall’s experience. It still had its bleak moments. Russ came into the year ready to buy in and do what was required, and for all its worth, that seems to be the case. We’d be kidding ourselves to believe that much has changed. Russ doesn’t seem to have changed anything about his play to fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The missed layups are happening. The shooting is still pedestrian. And the proposal to try a reduced role from the bench was met with questionable health status.
It’s only two games, but there’s no need to fool ourselves that the Russ experiment is sustainable. Both sides are trying, but the universe won’t allow it to thrive. Where as Russ’ basketball career will go up in the air after this season, Wall might be looking at another starting job and possibly a championship ring.
When the Lakers were linked to trading Westbrook for Wall around the 2022 trade deadline, there was skepticism. Now that both players have been placed beside each other, one can only imagine how less of a pickle the Lakers would be in if they took the deal. The Lakers and Russ are nearing their eventual breakup — whether it’s at the end of this season or in the middle of it — but after seeing the blueprint by John Wall, Westbrook has a chance to save his career before it’s too late.
It’s on him to show himself that he’s capable and willing to change… but we all know how hard it is to ask of that from him…