Road to Revival: Even with Russell Westbrook’s poor debut, the Lakers will be just fine
Point guard Russell Westbrook’s final statline in his Los Angeles Lakers debut: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-13 from the field, 0-4 from the three-point line and 3 turnovers.
The Lakers probably got the worst version of “Westbrick” possible.
During the Lakers season opener against the Golden State Warriors, I wanted to hide my face behind my hands as I watched the nine-time All Star barrelling into packed lanes, forcing up contested jumpers and looking discombobulated and out of sorts.
It was just the third time in 27 games the Lakers have lost when LeBron James and Anthony Davis brought 60+ points to the table. That’s not a great omen for the first look at this new squad.
However, there are a couple things we have to keep in mind.
First, it’s Game one of 82. Westbrook notoriously starts his seasons like he has never played basketball before.
In Washington last season, he struggled to get acclimated to his new environment until February when he began to look like an MVP candidate next to Bradley Beal. In Houston the year before, the Westbrook-Harden fit looked clunky at the start, until Westbrook got into a triple-double groove toward the latter half of the coronavirus-stricken season.
Second, albeit how questionable they were, the rotations we saw against the Warriors won’t be Head Coach Frank Vogel’s rotations through the season.
There is no reason for Rajon Rondo to be seeing the court — let alone next to Westbrook — clogging up driving lanes. When Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker and Wayne Ellington return from injury, Rondo will fall to the bottom of the guard rotation.
Forward Carmelo Anthony does not need to see 26 minutes of game time. His shooting ability was a definite necessity, but his atrocious defensive rotations and overall lack of attentiveness cost the Lakers, and will continue to do so, especially against a ball movement-heavy team such as Golden State.
With just under six minutes left in the game, the Lakers went on a run to pull within 2 points; it felt like the momentum in Staples Center was starting to favor the home team. Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry, who struggled massively all night, received a screen from teammate Draymond Green, who took Curry’s defender, Lakers guard Avery Bradley, out of the play.
All night, the Lakers trapped Curry at the point of the screen to get the ball out of his hands. However, Green’s defender, Anthony, decided to sit near the free throw line in drop coverage, allowing Curry to step into and knock down an open top-of-the-arc three, his best look of the night. I repeat, DROP COVERAGE against the greatest shooter to ever live.
Those kinds of mental lapses from Anthony won’t be as evident when he is playing 10-15 minutes per game, as small-ball power forward Trevor Ariza works his way back from injury. The Lakers will look a whole lot different come January or even come playoff time.
That being said, let’s overreact a little bit.
What exactly is the Lakers plan in the half court?
Teams will continue to pack the paint against James, Westbrook and Davis, and live with late contests on semi-open jump shots, but the Lakers need to have a plan of attack.
Westbrook cannot be spaced one pass away, because his man will essentially leave him to provide help. He either has to be spaced to the corner or have the ball in his hands, but, when it’s crunch time, you want the ball in LeBron James’ hands, the best decision maker the league has ever seen.
So, where does that leave former MVP Westbrook?
The Lakers need to find continuity in their half-court offense, whether that be using Westbrook in screening actions or having him cutting off-ball, because the current hero-ball game plan is too easy to strategize against.
But Big 3’s take time. Give Vogel and the Lakers a month or two to work out the kinks before you start spelling out doom for the season.
The bottom line is, against the Warriors, LeBron James and Anthony Davis looked fantastic and, most importantly, healthy, and coming into this season, the Lakers won 78% of the games that James and Davis played together the last two seasons.
At the end of the day, the Lakeshow still houses two basketball unicorns — I think they’ll be just fine.
Sahil Kurup is a sophomore writing about the Los Angeles Lakers upcoming season. His column, “Road to Revival,” runs every other Friday.