Russell Westbrook has now played 10 games in a Lakers uniform.
The results? A little shaky.
Westbrook has had a couple of big performances, the highlight so far being a 33-point outing in a road win over the Spurs, but his averages through 10 games stand at 19.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists on 41.8 percent shooting from the field. It’s the fewest points he’s averaged since his sophomore season and his true shooting percentage — a catch-all metric that accounts for 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws — is at a career low.
There’s still plenty of time for Westbrook to find his groove, but a few things have jumped out from his first 10 games of the season.
1. The short roll can be Westbrook’s best friend
As I wrote following Westbrook’s debut with the Lakers, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the Lakers use him when he’s sharing the court with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Parking Westbrook in the corner is clearly not the answer because of his shooting limitations. (More on that in a minute). One way to get around that is to use him as a screener in pick-and-rolls, especially when LeBron is in control of the offense.
LeBron has been picking teams apart with inverted pick-and-rolls for years now. Westbrook can’t shred mismatches on switches as easily as Kyrie Irving or pick-and-pop to the 3-point line as effortlessly as Kyle Korver, but he’s still a tremendous athlete and elite passer, the combination of which gives him the tools to do damage on the short roll.
We got a taste of Westbrook’s potential on the short roll down the stretch of the team’s win over the Grizzlies.
More of that, please!
2. You can only work with what you’ve got
There are a couple of reasons why we haven’t seen more of that. The first is Westbrook has never been particularly active off-ball. The second is Westbrook, LeBron and Davis haven’t played all that much together.
Through 10 games, the three of them have shared the court for a total of 113 minutes. The Lakers have been held to a standstill in those situations, posting a net rating of 0.9.
A more worrying sign is that the Lakers have been a disaster when one member of their Big Three has sat. Lineups featuring Westbrook and Davis without LeBron have a net rating of -8.4, lineups featuring Westbrook without LeBron and Davis have a net rating of -9.6, and lineups featuring LeBron and Davis without Westbrook have a net rating of -8.7.
So three of those combinations have been a negative so far and one has only been a slight positive.
|Players on the court||Players off the court||Minutes||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis||LeBron James||133||107.17||115.57||-8.4|
|Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Anthony Davis||113||109.02||108.13||0.9|
|Russell Westbrook||LeBron James, Anthony Davis||64||91.91||101.46||-9.6|
|LeBron James, Anthony Davis||Russell Westbrook||44||97.78||106.52||-8.7|
We’re still working with some small sample sizes, but the fact that none of them have been able to get going yet isn’t ideal.
3. The Lakers still aren’t the Lakers
Making matters more complicated is the Lakers have missed a total of 44 games due to injury so far this season, putting them behind only the Magic (47) for most in the league.
In addition to LeBron missing time, Talen Horton-Tucker and Trevor Ariza, both of whom have important roles on this team, have yet to play this season. Wayne Ellington, who might be the best 3-point shooter on the Lakers, also missed the first eight games of the season with a hamstring injury.
Having everyone back won’t solve all of their issues, of course, but it sure would help having a full roster. It’s hard to really know what to make of this team until they’re at full strength.
4. The shooting is a problem
Captain obvious here.
A career 30.5 percent 3-point shooter, Westbrook has started the season shooting 11-for-41 (26.8 percent) from 3-point range. He’s struggled to shoot on the catch and move, going 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3s and 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) on pull-up 3s. Of greater concern is that 32 of Westbrook’s 41 3-point attempts have been wide open, according to NBA.com, meaning his closest defender was six-plus feet away.
In case you were wondering, each of Westbrook’s remaining 3-point attempts have been “open,” meaning his closest defender was four to six feet away.
Then there’s possessions like this:
Westbrook has been much better from midrange (40.5 percent), but it’s a shot teams are always going to live with him taking if it means he’s not getting all the way to the basket.
5. What’s Buddy Hield up to?
You know who can shoot? Buddy Hield.
Hield is far from a perfect player, but he’s an elite 3-point shooter. Through nine games with the Kings this season, he’s averaging 10.7 3-point attempts and connecting on them at a 41.7 percent clip. Time will tell if he can continue to shoot that well on that volume, but he’ll join some elite company if he does.
As long as Westbrook is struggling and Hield is shooting the lights out, the trade that didn’t happen will continue to be brought up.
6. The turnovers are a problem as well
It’s worth noting even though Westbrook has long turned the ball over at a high rate.
Westbrook is now up to 4.9 turnovers per game in a Lakers uniform, which is tied with James Harden for the highest rate in the league. He coughed the ball up 10 times in a loss to the Thunder and had an additional nine turnovers in their win over the Grizzlies.
Westbrook also committed a costly turnover in the Lakers’ other loss to the Thunder.
Again, this isn’t anything particularly new with Westbrook, but it does point to something bigger. The off-ball fit next to LeBron and Davis was always going to be tricky because of the limitations mentioned already. If he’s struggling to score and create efficiently with the ball in his hands, it’s hard to envision this trio being good enough offensively to make a deep run.
7. Free throws are hard to come by
Westbrook’s free throw attempts are way down this season. He’s also struggling to convert them when he gets there.
His free throw attempt rate — the number of free throws he attempts per field goal attempt — is at a career-low 23.6 percent, and he’s made a career-low 62.8 percent of his freebies.
Free throw attempts are down as a whole to start this season, but it’s something to monitor moving forward for Westbrook.
8. This is going to require some patience
Following a blowout loss to the Trail Blazers in which he scored eight points on 1-for-13 shooting from the field, Westbrook spoke about the situation he’s in.
“I’m just trying to figure it out, you know?” he said. “It’s what I do. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done the last four or five years. Try to figure it out. Come to a new team, try to make the best of the situation and being the player that I am, and I like to find ways to do what’s better for the team, whatever the coach asks me to do.
“But with that is always a struggle to make sure that I am able to be who I am supposed to be on the floor and that’s doing everything and playing the hardest I can possibly play. And I’ve gotta do that for our team and I didn’t do that tonight, but that is something that I will make sure is done moving forward.”
9. We’ve seen this story before
To add to Westbrook’s postgame comment, a hopeful sign for the Lakers is he got off to slowish starts in his previous two stops.
In his first 10 games with the Rockets in 2019-20, Westbrook averaged 21.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.9 assists on 45.3 percent shooting from the field and 22.4 percent from 3-point range. He finished the season averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists on 47.2 percent shooting, earning him an All-NBA Third Team selection.
In his first 10 games with the Wizards in 2020-21, Westbrook averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 assists and 9.3 rebounds on 38.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. He finished the season averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game, the fourth time in his career he’s averaged a triple-double for an entire season.
The Lakers can only hope that Westbrook’s trend of improving as the regular season progresses continues.
10. The grind continues
Through his first 10 games, Westbrook faced the likes of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Damian Lillard. Over the next 10, he’ll face LaMelo Ball, Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday, to name a few.
It’s not going to get any easier for Westbrook and the Lakers anytime soon, especially if LeBron continues to miss time and Davis continues to deal with ailments.