FS1’s Shannon Sharpe is pouring dirt on the grave that is Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook’s career. Sharpe believes the only reason Westbrook is still on the Lakers is because no other NBA teams want the former MVP. Sharpe isn’t completely wrong in his assessment.
“Russ can’t go anywhere in the NBA where they want him,” Sharpe said. “And he knows it.”
The Lakers actively and aggressively tried to trade Westbrook this offseason, but there wasn’t a deal they were willing to accept. Westbrook opted into the final year of his contract and $47.1 million. Any team that wanted to acquire Westbrook would have to take on that salary, and for that they would’ve likely wanted a future Lakers draft pick.
But the expiring contract is what teams are interested in with Westbrook, and that’s a lonely feeling for a player that has been a nine-time All-NBA, nine-time All-Star and league MVP.
Westbrook is coming off of the worst season in his career. He had an estimated plus-minus of -1.2, ranking him in the 55th percentile in the league. In terms of efficiency it was the third-worst season of his career.
Throughout the course of his career, fairly or not, Westbrook has been a player labeled as unwilling to change and adapt his game. What made him a league MVP and elite player are not things he can consistently do at that level anymore, nor can he do them on a team with another ball-dominant star who happens to be LeBron James.
With the ball in his hands Westbrook is a one-man wrecking crew that assaults the paint and rim and when the defense collapses he can spray it out to open shooters. He’s also a good rebounding guard, so he is also a one-man fast break. But again, that was peak Westbrook.
What has been true throughout his career and is even more glaring now is that when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands on offense, he’s not weaponized. He hasn’t developed a consistent shot from three (career 30 percent), so defenses don’t have to worry about rotating out to him. He doesn’t cut or move off the ball. The easiest player to defend in the NBA is the one without the ball who doesn’t move.
To be fair, last season was difficult. Westbrook’s role constantly shifted with teammates Anthony Davis and LeBron in and out of the lineup missing so much time. It’s hard to get into a groove when you’re in a new situation with a shifting role on a team not designed with you as the lead guy.
The secret about the league that most fans don’t realize is it’s about fit and role. Very rare is the player who can excel no matter what the environment you place him in. Everyone else, even some all-time greats, needs a system that maximizes their skill set and players on the roster that complement them.
Russ, AD and Bron getting that extra work in 💪
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) September 28, 2022
New Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has said positive things about Westbrook, and if the former MVP buys in defensively, something he has never totally done in his career, he will play and contribute for this team.
“Everything has been about being selfless, team-oriented, having a defensive mindset, holding him to that—words that came out of his own mouth—that he’s gonna be at a high, high level defensively, along with the rest of our roster,” Ham said.
But it’s only September and those are just words. Actions will dictate how long Westbrook remains in Los Angeles this season. The offseason additions of Patrick Beverley, Dennis Schröder, and the return of Kendrick Nunn from injury don’t bode well for Westbrook if his game doesn’t change.