Russell Westbrook’s 2021-22 season is difficult to predict. More difficult than any other player on the Los Angeles Lakers.
He is in a situation he hasn’t been in before, in terms of having to play with two other superstars. James Harden was not the player he is now during their time together at the Oklahoma City Thunder.
How will he fit in with two superstars? Especially seeing as he isn’t the most important or second most important player in said big three.
Now that the Lakers have an elite playmaker at point guard, James is being relieved of some of his ball-carrying responsibilities.
This will make James better and could lead to him having another great season. What will it do for Westbrook’s season though?
It will make Westbrook a lot less wasteful, as he doesn’t have to shoulder much responsibility scoring-wise.
There have been some overreactions to his pre-season games. Yes, he had nine turnovers against the Pheonix Suns, however, it is only pre-season.
He is also not playing with Davis and James at the same time. What is seen in the pre-season doesn’t show at all how the Lakers’ offense will look without the big three playing simultaneously.
Furthermore, some players start slow after not playing competitive basketball for months, they shouldn’t be critiqued for it.
So, putting his bad pre-season aside, let’s look at how the season should pan out for Westbrook.
What Westbrook Brings to the Lakers
The Lakers acquired an all-time great point guard. One of the best guards in today’s game and his role in the Lakers is vital to them winning another championship.
They do not need Westbrook to have a great scoring season, that isn’t why they took the risk of trading for him.
Across his entire career, he has averaged 18.8 shots per game, and I don’t expect that to be the case alongside James and Davis.
He is giving the Lakers an elite facilitator, and judging from Westbrook’s interviews, he is making it clear that he wants to make guys around him better.
“I know I have to go out and compete but alongside that, I’mma make sure that I take that and make sure I make those guys better.
“My job is to make sure, uplift Bron and AD, make sure those guys are competing at the highest level, making sure I make my teammates around me better.”
Westbrook has led the league in assists in three different seasons. He last led the league in assists in the 2020-21 season with the Washington Wizards.
Playing alongside one of the best scorers in the game, Bradley Beal, he averaged 11.7 assists and was of course crucial in getting the Wizards to the playoffs.
The one major change I see from his game last season to this season is the efficiency. He averaged 22.2 points whilst shooting 43.9% from the field.
He attempted 19 shots per game in that team also. Now that he is playing with two other great scorers him attempting fewer shots will help with his efficiency.
I also wouldn’t put it past him averaging another triple-double seeing how hard he plays. In a big three, there is usually one person that has to sacrifice aspects of their game the most.
Westbrook seems to be accepting that he will be that guy, which is a great thing for the Lakers.
“You do what it takes for the betterment of the team. I think when you want to win, nothing can get in the way of that, the sacrifices you have to make.
“I’m all into making my teammates better, I want to be able to make those guys better, make the game easier for them. I’ll figure out how to play and figure myself out later on as the season goes along.”
Westbrook plays hard every night, if the Lakers get a high seed like expected it will be a lot to do with him. His intensity will motivate guys to put in work night in and night out.
What Could Go Wrong?
The main reservation about this trade from NBA fans has been Westbrook’s lack of a good, reliable 3-point shot.
Are these concerns valid? To an extent, sure. He has shot 30.5% from beyond the arc across his entire career.
However, are these concerns being dragged out of proportion? Most definitely. Westbrook’s lack of a 3-point shot does not make him a hindrance on offense, which is how it is being spoken about.
He makes up for his lack of a 3-point threat with his ability around the rim and a good midrange shot. The Lakers have surrounded their roster with very capable 3-point shooters, and there have been talks of Anthony Davis playing the five during the regular season.
The Lakers spacing will not be as big of an issue as some would have you think.
They have added a high IQ player to their roster, a player with nine All-Star selections, nine All-NBA selections, a two-time scoring champion, three-time assists champion, a two-time All-Star MVP, and former regular-season MVP.
When you put a player as great as Westbrook with two of the best players in the world, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it’s only right to expect great things.
Of course, the Lakers’ only goal is to win their franchises’ 18th NBA Championship. If they do, they will look back at this Russell Westbrook trade as one of their best moves ever.
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