We might be entering the first week of pre-season, but the Los Angeles Lakers face the same issues they did to end their last NBA campaign, and it all starts with getting the best out of Russell Westbrook.
At this point, we’re all aware of Westbrook’s limitations when playing alongside other ball-dominant stars such as LeBron James, and we understand that the superstar point guard will need to embrace a bigger off-ball role if he’s to succeed in Los Angeles this year.
Luckily, it would seem that Westbrook has got the message, as according to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, who was present during a recent team scrimmage, Westbrook looks like he’s been working on his off-ball game this summer.
“Westbrook was more engaged as a screener, setting ball screens for James and Nunn on separate possessions….There appeared to be better synergy between James and Westbrook,” Buha wrote in an October 2 article.
And judging by what Anthony Davis had to say to Buha, there definitely appears to be a conscious effort from Westbrook to fit the role the Lakers need him to play – especially if he wants to remain in Los Angeles and challenge for a championship.
Shaquille O’Neal Expects Westbrook to be Accountable
Over the summer, the Lakes made the decision to acquire defensive-minded guard, Patrick Beverley, in an attempt to improve their perimeter defense and locker room mindset heading into a fresh season.
Former Lakers champion Shaquille O’Neal believes that by adding Beverley to the roster, Los Angeles has found a vocal leader who won’t shy away from holding the team’s star players accountable on a daily basis – something which he believes could spur Westbrook to return to his best form.
“Pat Bev is gonna help Russ get back close to the level that he was at ’cause he’s gonna hold him accountable. When you shoot off the side of the backboard, someone needs to get you, ‘Look, hey man, what you are you doing?… I know Patrick Beverley is going to be a little bit more of a voice because LeBron is sort of like me. He will say something every now and then. Pat Beverley is going to say something all the time,” O’Neal said during an October 1 episode of The Big Podcast.
However, it’s worth remembering that the best version of Russell Westbrook on this Lakers team isn’t the best version we’ve seen of him elsewhere in the league – because there simply aren’t enough touches for him to the be ‘grab-and-go’ threat he’s always been at his previous stops around the league.
Lakers Could Still Trade Westbrook
Lakers fans should take solace in the fact that if the Westbrook experiment continues to fail, the franchise can still look to move him on before the trade deadline – assuming they can find a willing trade partner to absorb his $41 million salary.
Luckily, the Indiana Pacers would still be willing to do a deal, providing the Lakers put both of their future draft picks on the table, according to a report by ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast.
“The one I’ve said I would sleep over if I were a Buss or Mr. Pelinka is trading both picks to the Pacers for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner…My best intel right now is if the Lakers called Indiana right now and said ‘Both picks unprotected,’ the Pacers would do that deal, would probably do that deal,” Lowe said during the podcast.