The Los Angeles Lakers have been predicted to bench a $47 million superstar in their closing lineup this season.
In a September 28th piece called “Predicting Every NBA Team’s Best Closing Lineup,” Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey didn’t have Russell Westbrook in the Lakers’ closing lineup. He had Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn, Austin Reaves, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“Of course, Russell Westbrook isn’t part of the equation here,” Bailey wrote. “That’s less than ideal for a player making $47.1 million, but his pound-the-ball game just clashes too much with those of LeBron and AD.”
According to an August 3rd report from Jovan Buha of The Athletic, new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will have the power to bench Westbrook in the fourth quarter. Former Lakers coach Frank Vogel benched Westbrook a few times in the fourth quarter during the 2021-22 season.
Westbrook started 78 games for the Lakers last season. The nine-time All-Star and three-time assists champion averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The Lakers went 31-47 in Westbrook’s 78 appearances and missed the playoffs.
Why Bailey Likes Beverley, Nunn & Reaves Next to LeBron & Davis
Bailey likes Beverley, Nunn and Reaves next to James and Davis since all three players can shoot from the perimeter. The Bleacher Report insider doesn’t want Westbrook closing games since the one-time MVP isn’t a good shooter.
Among 46 players to take at least 1,000 shots, Westbrook ranked 42nd in true shooting percentage last season.
“This group is undersized at spots 1 through 3, but Beverley may be the best three-and-D player on the roster. He probably needs to be in,” Bailey wrote. “Kendrick Nunn is a bit of a question mark after missing all of 2021-22, but if he shoots as well as he did in the previous season (when he was at 38.1 percent), he probably needs to be in too. That leaves Austin Reaves, who played as hard as anyone on last season’s underwhelming team but struggled to a 31.7 percent mark from deep. During his first two seasons at Wichita State, when he was in an even smaller role than the one he occupied as an NBA rookie, he shot 45.1 percent from three.”
Beverley shot 34.3% from beyond the arc last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, while Reaves shot 31.7%. Nunn, who missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a bone bruise in his right knee, is a career 36.4% shooter from deep, so he projects to fit well next to James and Davis.
Westbrook had the sixth-worst effective field goal percentage in the NBA last season. He shot only 29.8% from beyond the arc and air-balled and bricked so many shots that fans started calling him “Russell Westbrick.”
Los Angeles ranked 22nd in the NBA in 3-point shooting in 2021-22, hitting only 34.7% of its team attempts. To compete for a championship, the Lakers need to surround James and Davis with shooters at all times, so benching Westbrook in crunch time makes sense.
Westbrook Will Probably Start Games
After the Lakers acquired Beverley from the Utah Jazz and signed Dennis Schroder, rumors started to swirl about Westbrook possibly coming off the bench. However, on September 19th’s episode of “NBA Today,” ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said the Lakers still view Westbrook as a starter.
“From what I understand now, they still see Russell Westbrook as a starter,” Shelburne said. “He’s a former MVP. He’s given that respect. Everyone’s gonna compete for jobs. … Russell Westbrook is the starter there.”
Westbrook hasn’t come off the bench in an NBA game since November 28th, 2008, a month into his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. When Ham was asked about the possibility of Westbrook coming off the bench during his introductory press conference in June, Westbrook — who was at the press conference — laughed at the notion.