If the Los Angeles Lakers want to make a run towards the playoffs and ultimately another world championship, they need to do it now. The team has really struggled halfway through the season, which is obvious, but they have also shown some flashes of their ability to play good basketball. It really does seem like this team hasn’t been able to put it all together, in part due to the core players not being out on the floor at the same time. Injuries and effort have played a role in the inconsistent play thus far but in order for the team to reach its true potential, figuring out how to accurately incorporate guard Russell Westbrook into the fold is key. The other two stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis already understand how to play together at a high level so now the team just needs to put it all together.
The former league MVP has been in the headlines this season for multiple reasons and has taken much of the blame for the Lakers struggles, however he is not solely to blame. Westbrook can be a polarizing player at times but still has shown that he can be effective for this Laker squad. Recently, being benched in the late stages of a game for the second time, Westbrook and the Lakers will need to figure things out quickly. The biggest thing that Los Angeles can do to help him succeed is tinkering who is out on the floor with him at all times. Westbrook has performed much better in his play when players like center Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan are off the floor. This is in part due to both centers taking up space in the restricted area and not having the skillset to space the floor, something that is needed from players around Westbrook.
One of the main advantages that Westbrook processes is his ability to get to the rim and he very much likes doing so. Having a big body that takes up space down low allows the defense to keep extra people in the paint, which causes Westbrook to take contested jump shots at times instead of attacking the rim. When the Lakers incorporate a lineup of players without a space killing center, Westbrook has been noticeably better at getting downhill and thriving in the teams pick and roll game. This is because opposing big men can’t simply just wait for him at the rim. Allowing Westbrook room to do what he does best and attack the paint can unlock so much for this Lakers team.
Since Anthony Davis has come back from injury, he has served as the main center for the team, and it has opened up more consistent space for Westbrook to get to the rack. In fact, he is getting to the paint this season at an almost career-best rate and that should continue as the Lakers have moved to a new small-ball approach in their main lineups. This should allow Westbrook to pick apart defenses better and use Davis as the primary pick and roll weapon, something that Davis also thrives on.
Westbrook recently has said that a conversation with Shaquille O’Neal has sparked some of his turnaround. O’Neal talked to Westbrook about slowing his game down and how that would ultimately help him succeed more. Westbrook had been playing better but recently has started to struggle again. He was benched in the late stages of a game against the New York Knicks and then again in the next game against the Milwaukee Bucks. His and the teams struggles has led to many within the organization to come to the conclusion that the team most likely won’t be able to win at a high level with him on the roster. Unfortunately for the team, they are stuck with him for at least the rest of the NBA season and will look to trade him in the offseason.
On the season, he is averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. This includes a game against the Charlotte Hornets where Westbrook almost singlehandedly won the game without James or Davis by scoring 35 points, including 30 in the second half of the game. The trio of James, Davis, and Westbrook haven’t played many games together due to injuries and will need a huge second half turn around to make this year a success. The Lakers went all in by acquiring Westbrook this past offseason and will need to make things work for the season. He is the third most important player on the team behind James and Davis and the Lakers won’t be able to reach their ultimate goal of a title season without the services of Brodie.