Time for the Lakers to Allow Russell Westbrook To Be Russell Westbrook
In his first two preseason games for the Lakers, newly acquired point guard Russell Westbrook has averaged 5.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 7.5 turnovers in 21.6 minutes per game with shooting splits of 21.1/40.0/0.0%.
With eleven new players and a new small ball offense and defense to learn, the Lakers have understandably gotten off to a slow start to the season, losing all four of their preseason games before tonight by an average of 18.5 points. That changes tonight as the Lakers will finally unveil their new Superstar Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook, the first time this season that the team’s three superstars will be on the court together.
While the stats for LeBron and AD have been as uninspiring as those for Russ and all three Lakers superstars have said it will take time for the team to jell, we should get a glimpse tonight of just how dynamic this team could be.
SHOULD LAKERS BE CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR 0–4 START?
Let’s start by re-emphasizing what every informed NBA fan should know: preseason games do not count. The only goal players have for preseason is to get into game shape, avoid serious injury, and hone their shooting stroke.
Preseason is when NBA head coaches experiment with lineups and rotations, give young or untested players an opportunity to earn playing time, and try to figure out how best to win games with the roster that they’ve been given. Teams like the Suns who had minimal changes in continuity always dominate in preseason while teams like the Lakers who have completely new rosters and offensive and defensive systems to implement need time and repetitions.
Unfortunately, NBA fans have short memories and a poor start by their team often results in panicked comments and overblown concerns that only prove to create unwarranted glass-half-empty predictions of doom and disaster. Last preseason, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers finished 4–0 while the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks had an 0–3 record and the West Champion Phoenix Suns had an 0–4 record during preseason.
Since the teams that met in the NBA Finals last season had a combined 0–7 preseason record, it’s obvious that preseason wins and losses have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a team can compete for a championship.
WHAT CAN LAKERS DO TO UNLEASH RUSSELL WESTBROOK?
The Los Angeles Lakers need to take the shackles off Russell Westbrook, who’s playing like a man afraid of being himself, of being selfish, of shooting too much, of being inefficient, of being a poor fit for what the Lakers need.
Last season, Russ led the lowly Washington Wizards to the East playoffs by averaging a triple-double of 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 11.7 assists, and 1.4 steals in 36.4 minutes per game, the fourth time he’s done that in five years. There’s no reason Russ can’t do the same for the Los Angeles Lakers. They just need Russ to be Russ. He can tone down the catch-and-shoot threes and turnovers but the Lakers need to free Russ to be the force he can be.
Tonight, all the experimentation ends and the Lakers unveil their new superstar big three and let Russell Westbrook be Russell Westbrook. That means living with the occasional unwanted 3-point shot or careless turnover. But it also means letting Russ play like he always has, relentlessly attacking the paint and getting to the basket, pushing the ball in transition, putting pressure on the rim, and taking the wide-open jumpers when available.
While the Lakers have so far slow-walked the preseason, they’re now down to just two games left before the start of the regular season. Tonight, the Lakers will unveil their new superstar big three and unleash Russell Westbrook.