Lakers' Russell Westbrook on Criticism amid Struggles: 'I Think I've Been Fine'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 27, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes the ball down court during the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Crypto.com Arena on December 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook brushed off criticism directed his way this season.

"Honestly, I think I've been fine," the nine-time All-Star told reporters Monday. "The conversation has been heavily on how I'm playing and what I'm doing, but I think people are expecting me to have f--king 25, 15 and 15, which, that is not normal. Everybody has to understand, like, that's not a normal thing that people do consistently."

Westbrook is right in the sense that he turned the exceptional into the norm by averaging a triple-double in three of the past four seasons. That can't continue forever.

Some of his numbers were bound to decline as he shared the ball with LeBron James and Anthony Davis too.

Having said that, the Lakers were probably counting on more from Westbrook to this point, especially since acquiring the 2016-17 MVP was general manager Rob Pelinka's last big roll of the dice to surround Davis and James with a championship-caliber roster.

Through 34 games, Westbrook is averaging 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists. His drop in production isn't coinciding with improved scoring efficiency. He's shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc.

To the extent on/off splits reveal anything, it isn't good that the Lakers are 4.6 points per 100 possessions better when the 33-year-old isn't on the floor, per NBA.com.

On Dec. 14, Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported the Lakers had already "held internal discussions on trade scenarios" revolving around Westbrook, another sign of how poorly the partnership has started.

Worth noting is how the dynamic guard has historically struggled the most around this time every year before finding his footing toward the business end of the season.

Per Basketball Reference, December (51.3) and January (51.7) are Westbrook's two worst months for true-shooting percentage. Conversely, February (54.9) and March (54.5) are his two best months. The difference is more stark when comparing his three-point percentage before (29.5) and after (32.2) the All-Star break.

The Lakers haven't even been at full strength for long portions of the season, with injuries ruling James and Davis out for stretches. That has hindered the process of Westbrook's adjustment to Los Angeles.

The Lakers are 16-18 and seventh in the Western Conference, which would mean once again having to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament. It's easy to see why the general skepticism toward L.A. is so vociferous at the moment. 

If history is any indicator, though, the Westbrook problem may resolve itself as the year drags on.