It’s a shame Lakers fans never had a chance to see Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook on the court together in purple and gold because no player in today’s game better embodies what Mamba Mentality is about than Russ.
Nobody in the league has a higher energy motor or more relentless attack mentality than Russell Westbrook. The question is whether his kamikaze style of play and ferocious attacks on the basket can be translated into rings. Russ’ full throttle, full court attack certainly creates extreme pace and inflates the record books with anomalous stats but the critics claim his style of play is undermined by poor shooting and hasn’t proven it can win championships.
Russ will have an opportunity along with LeBron and AD to prove the critics wrong as Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers have bet that a Superstar Big Three of Westbrook, James, and Davis is the path to the championship.
HOW WILL RUSS CHANGE HOW LAKERS PLAY?
The Lakers may be LeBron and AD’s team but adding Westbrook will require them to dramatically change how they play. While Russ will have to adjust too, LeBron and AD will have to make the biggest changes.
The Lakers’ likely strategy in trading for Westbrook is to double down on their small-ball-on-sterioids lineup with Russ at the one, a pair of volume 3-point shooters at the two and three, and James and Davis at the four and five. While Russ will play the same position, LeBron is going to have to play off the ball for the first time in his professional career and Anthony Davis is going to have to play center full-time for the first time in his Lakers’ career.
In the end, the Los Angeles Lakers will end up playing more of the full-court, run-and-gun style of fast break basketball that’s become synonomous with Westbrook’s 13 years playing in Oklahoma City, Houston, and Washington. The result will be a Lakers’ small ball lineup that’s bigger, longer, faster, quicker, and more physical and athletic than any lineup the league has ever seen before. The Lakers will be playing their bully ball version of small ball.
To gamble on trading for Westbrook and turning over their entire roster, the Lakers must have been convinced they could not win by running it back and needed instead to make a bold move to win their 18th NBA championship.
HOW WILL RUSS’ MAMBA MENTALITY HELP LAKERS?
One of the major tenets of Mamba Mentality is working hard to be the best version of yourself. That’s something the Lakers as a franchise and LeBron James and Anthony Davis as players have struggled with the last two years.
The bold decision to trade for Russell Westbrook has freed the Lakers to finally do what they needed to do to build the best possible version of their team, which is with LeBron James to the four and Anthony Davis to the five. After spending two years appeasing James’ preference to have the ball in his hands and Davis’ prefernce to play the four, the Lakers finally are making smart decisions to modernize their game and optimize their superstars.
Westbrook at point guard finally gives the Lakers a legitimate All-Star point guard to run the offense, score buckets, and create opportunities to get easy baskets for their All-NBA front court of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. With James and Davis at the four and five, the Lakers’ bully ball lineups have the talent, physicality, and athleticism to dominate the boards, control the lane, and win the points-in-the-paint battle against most NBA teams.
Offensively, the Lakers envision Westbrook at point guard relentlessly attacking the rim and creating easy dunks and layups for their LeBron and AD front court or wide open threes for their cadre of 3-point shooters. Defensively, the Lakers are counting on their small-ball-on-steroids lineup to shut down teams with their trapping, doubling defense like they did in the playoffs in the bubble to win their 17th NBA championship.
Strategically, the Lakers should stagger Russ’ and LeBron’s minutes so they have one of them on the court at all times. Being able to win minutes when LeBron rests by playing both Russ and AD will become SOP for the Lakers. Other than the start or close of halves when all three superstars play, the Lakers will rely heavily on LeBron carrying the load as he normall does when on the court and Russ and AD to carry the load when LeBron rests.
The non-Lebron minutes has been the Lakers’ Achilles Heel since signing LeBron. Having an energizer bunny All-World point guard like Russ to run the show when LeBron rests is going to transform the Lakers offensively.
WHAT ADJUSTMENTS DOES RUSS HAVE TO MAKE?
While LeBron James and Anthony Davis will have to make major changes in the game like changing positions, Russell Westbrook will have the luxury of being able to play the same point guard position he has played all his career.
But that doesn’t mean Russ doesn’t have to adjust his game to better fit what the Lakers and LeBron and AD most need from the point guard position, which means continuing to develop into the best possible version of himself. Since the Lakers’ Superstar Big Three are not elite volume 3-point shooters, it’s important for Russell Westbrook to adjust his shot selection to limit the number of low percentage pullup jumpers he takes from midrange or three.
Instead, Russ needs to double down on attacking the rim, looking for dunks and layups for both himself and for LeBron James and Anthony Davis or kick outs for wide open threes by the Lakers new corps of 3-point sharp shooters. The Los Angeles Lakers need volume 3-point takes and makes from their shooting guards and wings rather than their superstars to create space so Russ, LeBron, and AD can attack the rim and dominate points-in-the-paint.
Russ was an elite defender at UCLA and when he first came into the league and he needs to embrace getting back the defensive mojo that once ruled his game before he allowed his offensive athleticism to re-define him as a player. On a defense-first team like the Lakers, Russ needs to set the same example LeBron and AD have set by being a leader in playing tough individual and team defense. It’s an area where Russ’ Mamba Mentality could prevail.
It will take discipline and sacrifice for Russ to stop taking the pullup jumpers that have been a staple of his arsenal and play team defense but part of living up to his Mamba Mentality is working to become the best version of himself.
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