The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas, dropping their fifth game in a row falling to 16-18. Russell Westbrook had a triple double 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, but was a team high -23 for the game. LeBron James supported Russ following the loss, citing his effort and decision making. But how long will LeBron support Russ’ bad play?
For SportsCenter earlier today: LeBron James is on a scoring tear but the Lakers wasted his performances in their 5-game losing streak. James admits he isn’t the most patient person but he and the Lakers are trying to stay even keel. James also came to Russell Westbrook’s defense pic.twitter.com/YTkoJTu1Wu
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) December 27, 2021
Westbrook’s free-throw attempts are down and he is shooting a career worst 65 percent from the line. His turnovers are slightly up over his career average. His offensive rating is the worst of his career since his rookie season. Never a great shooter, he’s having one of his worst TS%, eFG% and 3P% seasons ever.
His effort and competitiveness remain at a high level, but the most damning stat is he’s having an overall net negative impact to his team when he’s on the floor. His overall estimated plus minus is -0.9, the worst of his career.
Lakers can't complete comeback in 122-115 loss to Nets:
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) December 27, 2021
Westbrook has had slow starts in his previous two seasons and has rebounded well. He doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of that so far, and we are nearing the halfway point. The Lakers have already played 40 percent of the season; it’s time for Westbrook’s improvement to start showing.
But even if he does right the ship, what can the Lakers expect from Westbrook if they are lucky enough to make the playoffs? They’re currently in the play-in, so there is no guarantee of a postseason.
On a LeBron-led team, Russ will have to defend at a high level, knock down open threes, and get the team in transition off of stops. For his career, he is a net negative on defense, and we’ve mentioned his poor shooting.
That brings us to transition.
The Lakers will need to get better as a unit on defense to get into their transition game. They’re now 16th in adjusted defensive rating, which is better than they were a month ago. As a team they are forcing turnovers at the eighth-highest rate in the league, which is good.
If they can keep trending up in that direction, it will allow Westbrook to get into the open court and put more pressure on the rim. No easy task in the postseason when you play all good teams.
The trade deadline is Feb. 10, and the Lakers don’t have a lot of assets or talent that other teams might want. General manager Rob Pelinka and shadow general manager LeBron will have their work cut out for them.
It’s unlikely they’re able or willing to move Westbrook. LeBron signed off on this move and has a certain sense of loyalty to vets like Russ. The reality is, he needs Westbrook to be something he hasn’t shown the ability to be so far in his 15-year NBA career.
Westbrook spoke candidly about his struggles after Lakers’ practice on Monday Dec. 28th.
“Listen, at this point, nah, I just do what I can for the betterment of the team. Everybody wants me to do certain things, Fiz, Frank, everybody wants me to do this but then they all want me to do this. Honestly, I’m over the whole situation of what everybody else wants me to do and what they think I should be doing,” Westbrook said.
“I’m gonna go in and just play and do what I know how to do best and that’s compete my ass off, compete to win games and make my teammates better like I’ve done for many many years. And I’ll continue to do that, it’s as simple as that.”
Perhaps more time on the floor with LeBron will morph him into that player he needs to be for this to work. He did shot a career high 34 percent from three in the 2016-17 season. While you’ll never confuse him with a good shooter, if he can make playoff defenses guard him honestly from deep, the Lakers will be a better team.
At this point, that’s really all they can hope for.
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