It was announced on Friday that the Los Angeles Lakers will end the preseason with Russell Westbrook moved to the bench, the best move the organization has made in months.
Simply put, the Lakers were a disaster in 2021-2022. The organization made a bold decision to add Russell Westbrook to the roster that won the NBA championship two seasons earlier. But it wasn’t long before it became clear that he was a bad fit for former head coach Frank Vogel’s scheme. Injuries were a factor in the Lakers last year, but they still had more than enough to at least make the playoffs.
Instead, the team didn’t even make it to the play-in tournament. It cost Vogel his job and led to speculation all summer about a possible Westbrook trade. Unfortunately for LA, Westbrook is almost unchangeable and they had limited assets and limited cap space to make any significant changes to the roster. Now, new head coach Darwin Hamm is left with much of last year’s roster and must find a way to make the superstar trio of Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Lebron James work in 2022-23.
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One idea that has been rumored for some time was officially confirmed on Friday by ESPN, the former league MVP starts games on the bench and will be featured as the team’s sixth man. The strategy will begin in the preseason finale and is the right decision for the team and the 9-time All-Star.
Let’s take a look at why moving Westbrook to the bench is probably the best thing LA has done all year.
Russell Westbrook, Lebron James and Anthony Davis don’t work well together
On paper, the idea of James, Davis and Westbrook on the court together seems daunting. They are three high-level talents with world-class scoring ability. Unfortunately, whenever the trio were on the field, they would disappoint. In lineups last season that featured all three, they were -15.7 and -1.2, respectively, per 100 possessions.
However, as bad as it was, in two quintets where there were only Davis and Westbrook, without James, the Lakers had -24.1 and -18.3. While a lineup of Davis, Westbrook, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley and Carmelo Anthony was +13.0 (best lineup with Westbrook), it still pales in comparison to how bad they can be when the former Oklahoma City Thunder star is on the floor with one or both his All-Star teammate.
It’s a bad combination, and while injuries may have affected the opportunity to build chemistry, the fact that Ham hasn’t seen enough this fall to try to make it work shows that nothing has changed since last season.
Being the sixth man, Russ can be Russ
As mentioned above, playing with Davis and James just doesn’t mesh well with Westbrook at his best. Which is like a ball-dominating Tasmanian Devil who can break down any attack with his still impressive athleticism and speed. Coming off the bench gives him a better chance to avoid playing alongside his superstar teammates and attack for himself.
As of now, the Lakers bench will include Dennis Schroder (when healthy), Austin Reaves, Thomas Bryant and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Yeah, it’s not that scary. When Westbrook is allowed to play to his strengths he immediately improves that group and puts an All-Star on the second unit.
The more they rest James and Davis, the better, and if he brings back Westbrook’s smile and gives the Lakers a strong second group, then it’s a win for everyone.
The former MVP’s Los Angeles Lakers bench is sending a message
There’s no better statement for a new head coach with multiple All-Stars, MVPs and champions on the roster than convincing someone like Westbrook that a move to the bench is the right move. A few months ago it would have seemed impossible, but now it is a reality. It’s a fantastic sign of how he got the living star to buy into his plan.
- Russell Westbrook Stats (2021-2022): 18.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, .298 3PT%
Plus, it tells the rest of the team that no one is above the goal of winning at all costs, even one of the best NBA players from the last decade can be demoted. If Ham wanted to earn the respect of his new team and the Lakers fan base, then mission accomplished.