“Playing The Guys I Thought Were Going To Win The Game” | Russell Westbrook Storms Off Court With 8.4 Seconds Left After Getting Benched

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook was benched down the stretch of the team’s 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. Head coach Frank Vogel was given the green light from the organization to coach Westbrook as he sees fit.

The former league MVP was pulled for the final three minutes and 52 seconds of the game, and left the court with 8.4 seconds remaining on the clock. He also left the arena without speaking to reporters.

Following the game Vogel was asked about his decision to bench Westbrook.

“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” he said.

There is a lot to unpack here.

The Lakers are a bad basketball team. They’re 22-23 and currently eighth in the western conference. They rank 23rd in aNET rating, 25th in aORTG and 21st in aDRTG. That’s the bottom third of the league.

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Last season before the injuries and the year before when they won the title, they ranked first and third respectively in aDRTG. Defense was their identity, and roster moves have changed that.

That brings us to Westbrook. The former league MVP is an elite player in transition and attacking off the bounce. He’s never been a great shooter, but his sheer force of will allowed him to get offensive rebounds and create second-chance opportunities. He’s also never been a great defender, but his elite offense made up for that.

Westbrook is no longer elite on offense, and his defense is the worst it has been in his entire career.

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Always a gambler on the defensive side of the floor, Westbrook is routinely caught flat-footed, ball-watching, and taking poor angles on his defensive assignments. His defensive EPM is -0.9 the worst of his 14-year career. His defensive box plus-minus is -0.7 the second worst mark of his career.

In Wednesday’s game Westbrook failed to execute the defensive assignment on the Pacers’ Caris LeVert. The scouting report was to take away LeVert’s right hand. A point that was emphasized repeatedly by the coaching staff.

With about seven and a half minutes to go in the game and Westbrook guarding LeVert at the top of the key one-on-one, he didn’t angle himself properly to cut off the drive and allowed LeVert an easy layup.

According to reports, that play was what prompted Vogel to bench Westbrook.

Reports have been circulating over the past few weeks that Vogel is on the hot seat and essentially coaching for his job. That’s a strange position to be in only two seasons removed from an NBA championship. But such is life in the NBA, where players, rightly, have the power.

Here’s the thing though, when a team is struggling like this it’s never just one thing or one person. Could Vogel do a better job coaching and with his rotations? Sure. But you can only play the players you have.

Roster construction is a general manager’s job. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has put together a poor roster. Opting to let Alex Caruso walk and trade away Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Russell Westbrook. Because they had three max salaries on the roster, they were forced to sign on the cheap veteran players that can’t defend.

Hello, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and DeAndre Jordan …

So Pelinka bears responsibility as well. So too does Lakers superstar LeBron James. His on-court play offensively has been excellent, and while he’s not Westbrook on defense, he can be better on that end of the floor.

No, he assumes responsibility for the roster as well. Everyone knows the Lakers cannot make any roster moves without an approval from LeBron. He wanted these high-priced one-dimensional veterans, now he and the Lakers are paying the price.

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