The 2021-22 NBA regular season wraps up next week, with just a handful of games for each franchise to play before the play-in tournament…
You ever wonder what your friends say about you?
Sure, they might start off with glowing remarks about your trustworthiness or your ability to make them laugh.
Problem is, you get as much truth from their first sentence as you do when meeting someone on a first date.
And like the first date, the real flaws are hidden with a fine line of restraint and shame until they are leaked all over your future kid’s divorce court hearing.
Wait, are we still talking about your friends’ opinions on you?
Because we pretty much know all of Russell Westbrook’s flaws, and his ‘friends’ definitely do.
Because ever since Kevin Durant told the world that being the most talented scoring machine in NBA history was not enough to win a championship with Westbrook, their public breakup was only piled on with media analysts putting Westbrook down any chance they had.
Hell, you only have to go back eight articles on my Roar profile to find one titled ‘Russell Westbrook teams don’t win’.
But now LeBron James, Westbrook’s nifty, methodically, thought-out ‘friend’, has seen through all the strengths and flaws and chosen to take him on anyway.
Clearly because LeBron ‘The GOAT’ James will bless upon thy Westbrook with his holy power of making everyone better and carry him to the promised land.
But this is a good fit for a bigger reason than having a ‘top secret regular season booster juice’ in Westbrook. And it might have something unique to do with Anthony Davis.
So, let’s go through just some of Westbrook’s biggest flaws and see how they fit in LA.
“Doesn’t make players better.”
Westbrook’s last three seasons with the Thunder set an all-time record for least passes recorded by a team.
Westbrook publicly beefed with rising bench guard, Reggie Jackson. Two stints later of not being the face of the team and let’s just say Westbrook is no Chris Paul.
But is making players better that much of a priority in LA?
The Lakers are now the oldest team in the NBA, so development becomes as important as bus seating arrangements.
Plus. for a team that is so top-heavy with Davis and James, fans are going to expect them to show up and this time, it’s not going to be Westbrook’s fault if they don’t.
“He can’t shoot.”
Westbrook is the starting point guard on the sharp brick lineup (SBL). Next to him is John Wall and Ben Simmons.
Then the front court consists of Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard. The team as a whole averages three ejections a game.
Obviously I could go into how the entire team lacks shooting and how Wayne Ellington will never be more valued on a championship team given a million simulations. But instead, let’s look at what their sacrifice is for…
The Milwaukee Bucks just won an NBA championship. Not by being led by a stellar shooter, but by prioritising their roster around defence.
The 2020 championship Lakers were shaped in a similar way. Neither were top-tier teams in three-pointers attempted but both were in the top six in defensive rating.
“He’s too emotional to be a championship point guard.”
You know why you can’t say in your job interview that ‘working too hard’ is your biggest flaw?
Other than it being unbelievable and thoughtless, 99.99 per cent of the time, that’s not a real flaw. Westbrook exists alone in the 0.01 per cent of where this becomes a problem.
Imagine there’s an explosively angry and difficult prisoner with inhuman strength that is only matched by his intensity. He plays on the courts for as long as he physically can as all the guards are openly afraid of him.
He takes on handicapped games of one-on-five and still wins, performing every aspect of the game to an exceptional level. Then the Warden tells that inmate that if he wins a game against a rival prison team, he will be granted his freedom.
That’s how Russell plays every minute in a long 82-game season.
But this is a hole the Lakers need filling. LeBron might be a cyborg made in a lab but even cyborgs get worn out.
The playmaking of Russell will take off miles of the injury-prone duo of old, but more important than all of that is the animalistic intensity he brings.
I have a theory that LeBron is sick of Anthony Davis’ inconsistency and devolution. That LeBron feels inside how we react outside to Davis taking six minutes to get up from a fall.
That LeBron is sensing that even with the injury bug poking around, that Davis has gotten a little too comfortable with his one and only ring. But LeBron plays good cop – he always has.
In fact, it is one of the biggest differences in leadership style when compared to a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
That’s where Westbrook enters, who happened to be Kobe Bryant’s favourite player.
It doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron’s team or the Olympic team, Westbrook will not put up with teammates half-hasting anything. Whether it’s a vice or virtue, that is Westbrook and that won’t change.
Just look at Durant’s comments on First Take: “He’s a player that you can’t put in his place. He’s a player with a big personality that you can’t tame.”
Don’t think Davis will be allowed to coast on Westbrook’s last chance to get a ring.
So we know who Westbrook is and we know who he isn’t. He’s that annoying Tetris shape you have no room for, but at least this time it is going in the best fit possible.