LeBron James had advice for Russell Westbrook after Westbrook’s disappointing performance in his Los Angeles Lakers debut: Watch a comedy.
And, according to James, Westbrook going home after the game to see his wife and kids will put a bad game in perspective, according to James. James even chalked up Westbrook’s game to the nerves and excitement of playing at Staples Center for his hometown team.
Anthony Davis promised they would help Westbrook figure it out following the Lakers’ season-opening loss to Golden State on Tuesday.
It’s just one game after a preseason in which they barely played together, but it was a game in which Westbrook had eight points on 4-for-13 shooting, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, with four turnovers and the Lakers were outscored by 23 points with Westbrook on the court. He didn’t look comfortable on the court with James and Davis.
This experiment with Westbrook alongside James and Davis is the biggest challenge of Westbrook’s career. It’s not unexpected either. Concerns about the construction of the Lakers’ roster were realized when they acquired him from Washington and lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell.
Westbrook’s previous teams, especially Oklahoma City and Washington, were built around him – or at least him as one of the two main players, utilizing his unabashed game. That’s not the case with the Lakers.
The Lakers revolve around James and Davis with Westbrook as the third man. This is nothing new for a James team that includes other All-Stars. Dwyane Wade called playing alongside James the toughest adjustment of his career, and Chris Bosh sacrificed points, rebounds and playing style to accommodate James with Miami. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had to do the same with Cleveland. Both teams won championships.
So, what is the right role for Westbrook?
The Lakers want some semblance of Westbrook being Westbrook – aggressive and at full speed.
But it’s also impossible for Westbrook to be the exact same version that he was last season with Washington and in previous seasons with Oklahoma City.
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His usage rate – an estimate of the percentage of plays used by a player while on the floor – with those teams was at least 30%. With James’ usage rate at 30% and Davis’ near 30%, Westbrook won’t have as many opportunities.
Westbrook needs to pick his spots, and the Lakers need to help him find those spots with Lakers coach Frank Vogel saying, “Him more than anybody, it’s going to be an adjustment period. He’s coming into our culture, our system. He’s the new guy, and he’s got to find his way. It’s difficult, when you’re used to being the guy who has the ball most nights, to be able to play off of others like ’Bron and AD. So it’s just a little bit different for him. He’s going to be great for us, but it’s going to be an adjustment period.”
Even though the Lakers are older, Westbrook still has a high-speed motor. Allowing Westbrook to get out in transition – especially after an opponent’s missed shot – takes advantage of his aggressive nature. Westbrook in the open court is a force, and James loves to get easy baskets for himself or teammates.
Staggering Westbrook’s minutes so that he’s not always on the court with both James and Davis will give him a chance to maximize his skillset. Of Westbrook’s 35 minutes against Golden State, nearly 21 minutes were spent on the court with James and Davis. In those 14-15 minutes without both of those other players, Westbrook has chances to play his old way without conceding any parts of his game.
It’s figuring out those 20 minutes with James and Davis that are most important to the Lakers’ development. Putting Westbrook in pick-and-rolls as the screener is an option that keeps him involved in the offense and may give him opportunities that also keep the defense honest.
This isn’t all on Westbrook. The Lakers have spacing and shooting issues, and they’re not 100% healthy. It may take a while to see if it works.
But how Westbrook assimilates – with help from the coaching staff and teammates – will determine how successful the Lakers can be with this roster.
The next step in that development begins Friday night against Western Conference champion, the Phoenix Suns.Internet Explorer Channel Network