Russell Westbrook had 36 points in his first three games this season, L.A. was 1-2, and everyone thought the sky was falling.
With LeBron James nursing right ankle soreness and sitting this one out, those pessimists braced themselves for a significant Spurs victory on Tuesday.
Westbrook stepped up in ’Bron’s absence in a 125-121 Lakers OT win over San Antonio, getting back in his multi-faceted bag and leading the way with 33 points, 18 boards and eight rebounds.
It was a vintage Westbrook performance. The kind that’s elevated the former league MVP to elite status in the game.
Bron Stopping Westbrook’s Flow?
“You talk about a dude being liberated…imagine how good that must have felt for Russell Westbrook,” said ESPN NBA insider Tim Legler, who referred to Westbrook as “a Ferrari unleashed.”
Legler didn’t flat-out say it, but it seemed he was insinuating that LeBron James’ presence in the lineup is an impediment to Westbrook’s wide open, improvisational style. Finding a rhythm is the most important thing for all of the Lakers’ new veteran additions.
Playing with LeBron isn’t as easy as it appears. Kyrie Irving won a championship but felt as if he couldn’t shine under LeBron’s looming shadow. Guards are often relegated to stand-still three-point shooters, particularly with ’Bron and AD doing the majority of their work inside of the three-point line. When you play with LeBron James, he sets the rules and dictates the boundaries of your contributions to the ultimate goal.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy for Westbrook, especially. The expression “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has stood the test of time for a reason.
Switchin’ Up To C’hip It Up
Westbrook is used to imposing his will on the offense, and for the first time in his career he has to figure out how to be effective using different styles each night.
His one-trick triple-double pony days are over, but as evinced by his performance so far with LeBron on the court, he hasn’t quite figured out where his services are needed.
Russell Westbrook has been struggling since the start of the season. Here are his numbers thru his first three games with the Lakers vs tonight's performance against the Spurs. #LALvsSAS pic.twitter.com/92JWDlB7t9
— Travis Jacque' Rose (@RoseSportsPod) October 27, 2021
Will this be problematic going forward? We still don’t know, and Westbrook’s coming-out game as a Laker only leads to more questions about how long it will take this new team experiment to gel.
Nobody is doubting LeBron’s ability to come up with a formula for success. He’s done it after slow starts in Miami and Cleveland.
The good news is that the Lakers know they can win games now when LeBron sits, which is important because the 36-year-old ’Bron needs more rest than he did when he was a young gazelle streaking up and down the court making blocks and dunking on minions.
Tuesday night’s game proved that Westbrook can provide quite an All-Star-caliber punch when he’s in his bag. He is also very comfortable playing off of AD.
No LeBron, no problem! Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis lead the Lakers to an OT win over the Spurs 🔥
AD: 35 PTS, 17 REBS, 4 ASTS, 4 BLKS
Russ: 33 PTS, 10 REBS, 8 ASTS, 3 STLS
15-of-27 FG pic.twitter.com/ZEpFNA3hYe
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 27, 2021
New Game Plan
LeBron controls the Lakers offense. Russ will get his opportunities, but overall he has to find his niche. He’s not going to get 30/10/10 a night. The Lakers are ’Bron and AD’s team.
So while Westbrook’s first outburst of the 2021-22 season is a great sign for the Lakers and a rewarding “up yours!” to the folks who jumped out of the window too soon about his demise, it leads to more questions about the compatibility of ’Bron and Westbrook existing on the court at the same time. Can it work?
We still don’t know.