The Los Angeles Lakers have won just 8 of their first 15 games, a disappointing start that included three losses to two Western Conference bottom-feeders, Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
The team’s fans, as passionate as any in any sport, have loudly bemoaned each loss. From the start of the season, the “couch coaches” have been shouting out on social media what they perceive to be the reason(s) why the team isn’t burning up the league. And of course, they seem to know exactly what changes need to be made.
Let’s look at the most common explanations for the Los Angeles Lakers slow start:
1. Russell Westbrook
Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis lobbied management to acquire Russ knowing that it would take time for the point guard to fit in effectively alongside them. The Lakers front office and coaching staff understood when they traded for him that there would be an adjustment period.
Westbrook’s game is a contrast of strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, even at age 33, he is almost freakishly athletic. He can still be an unstoppable whirlwind driving to the hoop and can create a one-man fast break. He plays with tremendous energy and is relentless in his approach, somewhat reminiscent of Kobe Bryant.
He’s averaged a triple-double in four different seasons. Only one other player, the legendary Oscar Robertson, has ever done it even once. Russ ranks 9th all-time with 8.5 assists per game, ahead of several of the best-ever PGs, including Steve Nash and Bob Cousy. He is almost certainly the best rebounding guard in league history. And he was recently named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
But Westbrook is not a complete player. He is a below-average outside shooter, especially behind the three-point line, where he shoots just over 30% for his career. At times he plays great man defense but at other times his attention wanders, allowing his man to get wide open.
His decision-making can leave much to be desired. He can be careless with the ball, turning it over 4.1 times a game, the highest amount in league history. (For the record, Magic Johnson has the second-highest turnovers per game, 3.9, while LeBron is eighth with 3.5).
Russ is one of the league’s most exciting players. He can make a spectacular play one trip down the court and follow it up with a boneheaded mistake. Throughout his career, he’s always been consistently inconsistent. But that’s no surprise to the Lakers, who knew all about that when they traded for him.
In his first 15 Laker games, Westbrook is slightly worse than his career averages in points per game (19.4), turnovers (5.3) and shooting percentage. But his assists (8.3) are right at his norm and rebounds (8.7) are a tad above.
Yes, Westbrook deserves some of the blame for the Lakers slow start. But he has also been an instrumental factor in some wins, and his overall performance will likely improve over the course of the season.
It is also fair to compare him with the man he replaced in the starting lineup. Dennis Schroder put up worse numbers for LA last season than Russ has so far this year in nearly every category, most particularly points (15.4), assists (5.8) and rebounds (3.5).
Fans will just have to learn to live with Westbrook’s mistakes and enjoy his accomplishments. The Lakers will not be trading him away.