The Los Angeles Lakers’ objective as an organization is win championships. The reason they’ve succeeded doing that 17 times has been their relentless pursuit of superstar players. That’s why they traded for Russell Westbrook.
Gambling they can transform Russell Westbrook into a championship caliber player, the Lakers are once again going all-in on hitting a home-run and worrying little about the possibility of the move turning into a strike-out. That’s pure Lakers’ ‘exceptionalism.’ Zigging when other teams are zagging. Betting all the other teams and pundits are wrong and all Russell Westbrook needs to become a winner is to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
We know adding Russ, who’s not an efficient 3-point shooter, has hurt the Lakers spacing but here’s three ways Russell Westbrook can become the dynamic difference-maker the Lakers need to win the championship:
1. GIVE RUSS THE GREEN LIGHT TO REBOUND AND RUN
The single most important way the Lakers can take advantage of Russell Westbrook to help them win a championship is by giving him the green light to relentlessly rebound and run on every single defensive possession.
Unleashing Russ to be Russ in transition is the best way to get him to embrace the kind of defense the Lakers need from him as a big physical guard with the size and athleticism to create chaos and defend multiple positions. During their championship year, the Lakers’ 101.20 pace was 11th in the league. Last season, their 98.85 pace was 21st in the league. This preseason with Russ, the Lakers’ torrid 108.33 pace was 2nd best in the league.
The Lakers’ strategy is obviously to take advantage of the Russ’ speed and relentlessness and LeBron’s and AD’s physicality and athleticism by pushing the ball after every defensive stop or score to create more scoring chances.
2. PLAY RUSS WITH AD WHEN LEBRON IS ON THE BENCH
In three years, the Lakers have not yet had a positive plus/minus rating when LeBron James is not on the court. One of their primary goals in trading for Russell Westbrook was to change that and win the non-LeBron minutes.
Unfortunately, the addition of Anthony Davis didn’t result in the Lakers winning the non-LeBron minutes. Now, however, the Lakers have a second superstar in Westbrook whom they can pair with Davis when LeBron rests. Since LeBron has had double-digit on-the-floor plus/minus ratings the last two years, the non-LeBron minutes have been the Lakers’ Achilles heel. Winning those minutes would make the Lakers an offensive juggernaut.
LeBron James is probably going to play 75% or 36 of 48 minutes each game. That leaves 12 minutes or 25% of the game without LeBron where the Lakers need to play both Russ and AD. Win those minutes and Lakers are champs.
3. USE FIVE-OUT SETS TO GET RUSS GOING DOWNHILL
The pleasant surprise of the preseason was the Lakers ditching their boring long-time isolation offense that consisted of posting up LeBron James or Anthony Davis and allowing them to go 1-on-1 and make plays if doubled.
Instead, the Lakers are in the process of implementing a five-out spread offense designed to create spacing and movement to unleash the Lakers’ superstar playmakers and rim rattling scorers to dominate other defenses. Leave it to the Lakers to be the team not satisfied with a first round exit even if due to injuries. They’re the only legitimate championship contender to completely rebuild their roster and revamp their entire offensive strategy.
The Lakers need to put Russ in position where he’s going downhill and attacking the rim. The can do that by rescreening when defenders go under screens and emphasizing Westbrook pick-and-rolls with AD and LeBron.
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