It has only been a couple of weeks, but the Russell Westbrook experiment has felt like a misstep for the Los Angeles Lakers. The former NBA MVP may have willed the woeful Washington Wizards to the playoffs last season, but he has rarely shown that same kind of magic this year.
He had one of his better outings on Tuesday, though, when the Lakers eked out a 119-117 victory over the one-win Houston Rockets. Westbrook scored 27 points in the game, adding nine rebounds and seven assists while committing just three turnovers. Despite the uptick in output, Lakers alum Derek Fisher doesn’t seem to be too impressed.
During the post-game show, Fisher namechecked the nine-time All-Star while breaking down the contest. He didn’t call him by his given name, however. Instead, fans were treated to a slip of epic proportions on live television when the former player and coach called him by the same name that internet haters have used for years.
Fisher quickly corrected himself, but one can’t help but wonder if the jumble may have revealed something. At the least, the numbers lend credence to the moniker. At the eight-game mark, Westbrook’s scoring average is the lowest it has been since 2009-10 campaign and his three-point percentage of 21.9 is on pace to be a new career low.
Westbrook has never been a particularly efficient player, mind you, but he’s currently setting a new standard for wasting possessions.
Part of a Larger Problem
While Westbrook has been far from good from the field, his misfiring is just one piece of a larger problem. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has fielded a roster with a relatively low ceiling where perimeter shooting is concerned. So, if their defense stumbles, the Lakers don’t have much to fall back on.
“After giving up 70 points in the first half, the Rockets only scored 47 points in the second half. It’s going to sound like a broken record but that is the only recipe for success for this team,” Fisher said.
“Right now they don’t shoot it well enough from long distances to get into offensive battles against teams. So they’re gonna have to be a team that can hold teams to 100 less, score 110 and walk away with the game. If it starts to get into 120, 125, I don’t know if that’s the way the Lakers want to win games this year.”
So far this season, Los Angeles is connecting on 36.2% of its triples, which actually feels high for this group. However, the team’s defense has been a mixed bag. After leading the Association in D-rating last season, the Lakers are currently 16th league-wide. The Westbrook effect has been perhaps even more pronounced in this regard; the team has been 5.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively with the point guard on the bench.
If these things continue, the Lakers are going to be in trouble when, say, Carmelo Anthony stops making 52.9% of his 6.4 attempts per contest.
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Lakers’ Schedule Has Been Super Soft
Melo doing his best Kyle Korver impression isn’t the only reason the Lakers have been able to win five of their first eight games with Westbrook bricking and the defense leaving something to be desired. Los Angeles has also managed to skate by against weaker competition.
Per ESPN’s RPI rankings, the Lakers currently rank 29th in the Association in strength of schedule. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves have had an easier road so far.
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