3. The Unique Russell Westbrook
No Los Angeles Lakers player is more controversial than Russell Westbrook. The buzz on social media is consistently negative about the future Hall-of-Fame guard.
But whether or not fans realize it, Russ is the player now that he’s always been. The Lakers knew exactly what they were getting when they traded for one of the more distinctive point guards to ever play the game.
Most of the criticism centers on three facets of his game, just as it has since his rookie season.
- Turnovers– Westbrook is averaging 4.5 turnovers per game. He’s averaged at least that many during the past 5 seasons and has the highest TO rate in NBA history. (Magic Johnson ranks second and LeBron 8th)
Most of Russ’ TOs occur because of careless ballhandling or his attempts to force a pass through traffic. He has recently made a concerted effort to cut down his turnovers. Time will tell if the trend continues.
- Shooting– Russ never has been and never will be a great outside shooter. So it’s fair that fans cringe whenever he releases a shot. This season he’s shooting 44% from the field, right around his career average.
- Defense– this is most puzzling because Westbrook was a stalwart defensive stopper during his collegiate days at UCLA, where he always guarded the opponents’ best non-big player. Mostly his problems seem to result from a lack of focus.
But the Lakers didn’t acquire Westbrook because he protects the basketball, is a great outside shooter or a defensive stopper. Probably the two biggest reasons that LeBron and AD convinced Pelinka to trade for him were to give the Lakers a solid #3 scorer and to take ball-handling pressure off James.
Russ has achieved both of those goals. He is scoring 19 PPG, third on the team, and leads the Lakers with 8.2 assists per game. In James’ 19 NBA seasons, no teammate, not Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Dwyane Wade in Miami, or anyone else, has recorded as many assists. In addition, Westbrook is also averaging a respectable 6.7 rebounds a game.
Is Russ a perfect match for the Los Angeles Lakers? No, far from it. His stats look even worse by measure of several advanced metrics. To be fair, it is easy and accurate to find fault with his play.
But it should also be objectively noted that no player gives greater effort than he does. And he has started to fit in better as the season progresses. We will find out firsthand if he helps give the team a second-half push in the right direction.