Will Russell Westbrook Move to Bench amid Rumors LA Wants to Start a 3-Point Shooter?

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured Columnist IJuly 31, 2022

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At this point, it's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers need to improve on their outside shooting woes.

Last season, they shot 34.7 percent from three as a team, ninth worst in the NBA.

But just in case there are those that didn't know or forgot about how bad the Lakers are at shooting the ball, the front office is making things a bit more clear.

According to The Athletic's Jovan Buha, L.A. are "looking on start whichever wing/guard can make 3s and defend at the point of attack at the highest level on the roster."

That immediately brings to mind the curious case of Russell Westbrook, who statistically had one of the worst seasons of his career last season, especially when it comes to shooting from behind the arc.

For the 2021-22 season, Westbrook shot just 29.8 percent from three, which wasn't the worst on the team.

But what stood out was when he took his threes. They seemed to come too early in the shot clock and were ill-advised and forced. All of that coupled with his team-leading 3.8 turnovers per game really seemed to make him appear to lose confidence in his shot and his game.

By the end of the season, Laker fans were not only booing the nine-time All Star—they were wanting him gone, too.

And by all accounts, it appears the Lakers front office agrees with that sentiment. They've been trying to trade the former NBA MVP most of the offseason to no avail.

Whether it be for a "better third star" like Kyrie Irving or "stronger depth" like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, per Buha, L.A. has not been able to move Westbrook and it looks as if they'll start the 2021-22 season with him still on their roster.

So they'll have to lean on how recently hired head coach Darvin Ham uses him in his offensive and defensive schemes.

When Ham first landed the job, he said all the right things about Westbrook, citing his status as a superstar, his energy and peddle-to-the-floor playing style.

He also leaning into the idea that Westbrook can and will focus his competitive fire more on the defensive end.

“In today’s game, Russ is known for his huge competitive spirit and the velocity in which he gets up and down the floor pushing the ball," Ham said on NBA TV during summer league. "The thing I said is that you just have to diversify that. Not only will he be leading the charge and pushing the break, but screening and rolling, defending. I have a film put together of him being a pitbull on defense in pick-and-rolls, against DHOs, chasing guys off pin-downs, guarding screeners, guarding in the post. ... We’ve got to get back to playing defense. ..."

"Russ, in my opinion, he’s in great shape, he’s durable, and in this system—this four-out, one-in system—he’s gonna have a chance to screen-and-roll and make plays in the half-roll. He’s gonna have a chance to run on the break, slash and get layups. He’s gonna have a chance to spring out to the corner, flatten the defense, get corner threes as well as the things that he already does well in terms of getting the ball and pushing the pace and pushing the tempo. I’m excited as hell to have Russell Westbrook on our team."

All of that said, on a team with LeBron James, who is arguably the most gifted passer in the league, L.A. needs shooters who can fill it up from the perimeter.

Thus far, Westbrook hasn't shown that he can effectively or efficiently accomplish that task.

So how do the Lakers move forward if they can't trade Westbrook?

Most likely, they'll have to take the ball out of UCLA alum's hands and leave the primary ball-handling to James.

James can find ways to utilize Westbrook on back-cuts and rolls to the basket and get the ball to him on fast-break opportunities.

As for the wide-open shots on the perimeter, those may have to go to Austin Reaves (if he can get his shot back on track) or perhaps Cole Swider, who played well in summer league or Carmelo Anthony should he choose to rejoin the team.

No matter who gets the starting nod, though, it could mean that Westbrook sees fewer minutes on the floor, especially with the first team, in favor of possibly running the second unit.

That might not go over well with the future Hall of Fame guard, but it might be best for the team to be able to space the floor and get good open looks from the perimeter.

Still, if Westbrook can somehow find a way to become the pitbull on defense that Ham envisions, that could keep him on the floor for longer stretches, giving him more opportunities to settle in and find his way on offense.

If he can do that, he'll be able to keep his starting role and finish up his career in the famed Purple and Gold on a high note.


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