When the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook in the summer and formed a new big 3 with him, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis, everybody's immediate thought was: Well, how will this work? Guys with playstyles that don't really mesh together and contradict each other were a tough sell to pitch to the world. Still, Lakers fans have been convincing everybody and themselves that everything will work and that the Lakers will be the team to beat.
Well fast forward to the start of the NBA season, and the Lakers have disappointingly lost their opening game versus the Warriors after going 0-6 in the preseason. All the worries and flaws in the Lakers system are currently showing, as even dominant performances from their best two players, LeBron James (37p,11r,5a) and Anthony Davis(39p,11r), weren't enough to get them the win.
When you look at the fact Curry struggled mightily, shooting only 5-21 from the floor, it's hard to phantom how the Lakers lost that game. Well, the answer is depth and team-play. Curry maybe struggled, but guys like Poole, Bjelica, Lee, Iguodala, Draymond, and more stepped up when it mattered and secured the Warriors a great win on the road. On the other side, that is exactly what the Lakers lacked, as LeBron and AD had no help.
Well, where was the third part of the big 3, Russell Westbrook? The electric point guard continued his preseason struggles, finishing the game with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers on 4-13 from the floor. A really poor stat line for a guy we are used to seeing put up monstrous numbers. We all knew Russ would have to adjust playing with LeBron and give up a fair share of the ball, but this is not the way.
Westbrook is so used to handling the ball every possession and setting up every single aspect of the offense with some of the highest usage rates you will ever see. Now he has to find a balance between being the point guard and learning to play off the ball. Something utterly unknown in Russell's career so far. The triple-doubles could be a thing of the past as maybe Westbrook simply isn't that superstar anymore. Hell, Lakers legend and Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O'Neal went as far as saying Westbrook is merely a role player on this team:
"They still need role players, right? I see Russ as a role player, a damned good one, but he's a role player. It's LeBron [James] first, AD (Anthony Davis) second and then Russ. He can get his stuff on the break."
Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Times
Russell Westbrook and role player in the same sentence just doesn't seem right. After all, we are talking about a 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA player, 2x scoring champion, MVP, and a player who has averaged a triple-double in four seasons. Also, the passion and intensity Russell plays with simply makes him "must-see" TV and the perfect example of a superstar.
But at this point of his career, Westbrook may have to accept a new reality. At almost 33 years old, Westbrook is getting up their age even though it looks like his athleticism isn't going down. But the basketball IQ and decision-making need to improve if he wants to successfully play with such an intelligent basketball player like LeBron. After all, there are 81 games left, and if someone can help Westbrook figure it out, it's LeBron. James will need Russell in his best version if he wants to lead the Lakers to another championship.