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Lakers, Russell Westbrook Should Look at DeMar DeRozan as Blueprint for Success

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 15, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 14: Anthony Davis #3 (L) and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during the second half of the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 14, 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 Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers could learn something from DeMar DeRozan.

Not as much as they could have if their offseason courtship had manifested into an official partnership, but there is still something of value.

While the Lakers are struggling to gain traction with the top player they did pull from the 2021 NBA offseason, Russell Westbrook, DeRozan is playing an integral role in the Chicago Bulls' climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

"He's incredibly poised," Bulls coach Billy Donovan told reporters. "He does not get out of sorts at all. And I think he's great for our team. Having a guy like DeMar out there, who plays with a pace and a tempo and a poise, you never take him out of what he's doing."

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Chicago Bulls Forward DeMar DeRozan (11) looks on before a NBA game between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers on November 14, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

DeRozan came to Chicago with a long productive career behind him, but it wasn't clear what kind of impact he could make. His numbers hadn't always translated to winning, his lack of an outside jumper threatened to spoil the offensive spacing, and his defensive track record hardly comforted anyone worrying about that end of the floor.

Sound familiar, Lakers fans?

The parallels between DeRozan and Westbrook aren't hard to spot. They are 30-something L.A. natives who work best with the basketball in their hands, do the bulk of their scoring inside the arc and often leave something to be desired on defense.

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Where the similarities stop, though, is with their respective seasons.

DeRozan, whose Bulls will tussle with the Lakers at Staples Center on Monday night, has his fingerprints all over Chicago's rapid rise. Westbrook, meanwhile, can't get himself or his team out of first gear.

He was an awkward on-court fit before he even donned his new purple-and-gold threads, but his biggest skeptics may not have seen this coming. It's one thing to encounter some growing pains; it's quite another to make your team 13.2 points worse per 100 possessions just by taking the floor, as Westbrook has so far, per NBA.com.

It's worth noting, of course, that the sample size is minuscule. The Lakers are only preparing for their 15th game of the young season. LeBron James has suited up in just six of them. Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza still await their season debuts.

Give Westbrook more time to get himself up to speed and better acquainted with his new teammates, and maybe this starts to trend in the right direction.

"Him more than anybody it's going to be an adjustment period," Lakers coach Frank Vogel told reporters on Oct. 19. "He's coming into our culture, our system and he's the new guy. And he's got to find his way. ... He's going to be great for us, but it's going to be an adjustment period."

This is where it's worth nothing DeRozan faced the same adjustments in Chicago and aced every test on that front.

Could the same eventually happen for Westbrook? It's possible, if he follows the blueprint DeRozan laid out.

In Chicago, the former Toronto Raptor and San Antonio Spur has molded his game a bit to his new surroundings but stayed true to the things that have made him great. He's still aggressively seeking out shots (averaging his second-most in a season) and feasting on mid-range jumpers. But he's also more willing to fire up open threes (third-most attempts in a season), taking care of the basketball and chipping in as a secondary distributor.

The 6'6" forward has found the perfect balance between adapting and being himself. That's the part of the equation Westbrook has so far been unable to calculate.

The guard can't do everything the way he always has, but he can't fundamentally change who he is, either. He needs to get more selective with his chances—shooting 42.7 percent and averaging 5.4 turnovers are borderline unforgivable as the third star in a Big Three—but he can't pass up the opportunities that do arise.

DeRozan hasn't become a brand-new player, but he might have used this opportunity and all of the scoring support to help bring out his best. The Lakers can only hope a similar change is on the horizon for Westbrook.

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