NBA champion and former player Iman Shumpert is one of the few who continues to defend Russell Westbrook for his terrible season. Westbrook, who had a forgettable first year with the Los Angeles Lakers, severely underperformed, but according to Shumpert, it wasn’t his fault at all.
Shumpert believes that the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t put Westbrook in the best position to succeed. The former Clevland Cavallier said that the Lakers didn’t do him a favor by letting him play off the ball for most of the season. Instead, Shumpert blamed the Lakers’ disastrous season on Anthony Davis’ inability to stay healthy and the Lakers’ overall offensive approach.
“He don’t got the ball 80% of the time no more, everything changed, and everyone is like it’s Russ fault he’s getting 40 million. They had him playing off the wings when he’s not even used to that,” Shumpert said about Westbrook in his latest appearance on the Vlad TV podcast.
Shumpert should do his research.
While Shumpert presented a valid argument, it’s still important to mention the statistical evidence that proved why Westbrook struggled. Shumpert said that Westbrook didn’t get to touch the ball 80% of the time; however, according to BBall-Index, Russ led the Lakers rotation in ball dominance this season. According to the league’s tracking data, Westbrook also averaged 78.9 touches per game in the 78 games he played this season.
Westbrook, who averaged 18.5 points (his lowest since his second year in the league), 7.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 3.8 turnovers per game this season, rendered his worst defensive impact, on-ball defense, and overall shot-making rating in his career this season.
So yes, Shumpert, there was a reason why Frank Vogel cut his minutes and possessions and why the team didn’t want the ball on Russ’ hands this season.
One can argue that utilizing Russ off-ball more this season caused his downfall (which could be considered correct) but remember, playing off-ball was what Westbrook promised and sacrificed to do last offseason when his trade to the Lakers was finalized. He should’ve at least found a way to make himself more useful by playing better defense, cutting to the basket, leading the team in transition with his gifted speed, and turning the ball over less.
Instead of blaming how Russ was utilized, it’s more important to point out that his fit on the team was more of a problem. Westbrook’s playstyle clashed with LeBron James. Also, when James sat out for 26 games due to injury or load management, it wasn’t like Westbrook carried the team during his absence despite having complete control of the ball.
There’s no excuse for all Westbrook’s dropoff this season, specifically all his missed layups, defensive lapses, inability to shoot, space the floor, and most notably, his unpleasant behavior throughout the season.
Russ can’t be blamed for his contract.
However, Shumpert was correct when he said Westbrook shouldn’t be blamed for his $44 million contract this year. After all, it was the Oklahoma City Thunder who rewarded Westbrook with this gigantic contract. Every single person on Earth will accept this kind of money, so it’s unfair if Russ gets blamed for doing just that.
But what’s fair to say is that Westbrook didn’t play like a $44 million superstar - the highest-paid player on the Lakers, mind you. There were matters out of his control, like the team’s injuries and poor roster construction. But given that he promised to sacrifice and find ways to make his fit work, suffice it to say that he deserves a ton of flack for his performance this season.
Westbrook's never been a good shooter, and you may want to give him a pass for not miraculously developing one so late in his career. Everything else - effort and focus on defense, cutting to the basket, setting screens, and moving without the ball - is well within Westbrook's control.