Russell Westbrook has never been the third option on a team, and if he has, it hasn’t been since he was drafted fourth overall in 2008. Yes, he was teammates with Kevin Durant and James Harden, but Harden wasn’t the star then that he is now. For all of Westbrook’s career, he’s been (at-lowest) the 1B to someone’s 1A.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Westbrook has struggled to start his Lakers career. In his regular-season debut for Los Angeles on Tuesday, Westbrook scored 8 points on a lowly 4-13 shooting from the field and he posted the worst plus-minus on the team at -23. That performance was consistent with what he showed in the preseason.
With each lackluster stat line, fans have grown increasingly frustrated with Westbrook. Westbrook himself is clearly frustrated too. But Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is preaching patience. He understands that the nine-time All-Star is going to need time to acclimate to his new role.
“Him more than anybody it’s going to be an adjustment period,” Vogel said after the Lakers’ loss on Tuesday. “He’s coming into our culture, our system and he’s the new guy. And he’s got to find his way. It’s difficult when you’re used to being the guy that has the ball most nights to be able to play off of others like LeBron and AD, so it’s just a little bit different for him.
“He’s going to be great for us, but it’s going to be an adjustment period.”
While Westbrook adjusts, Vogel wants him to play with the same passion he’s played with throughout his career.
“That part’s easy,” Vogel said. “He’ll stay aggressive, he’ll stay in attack mode, it’s just figuring out his teammates around him and that will come.”
If he does that and doesn’t get discouraged, Vogel believes it’s only a matter of time before Westbrook looks more like himself.
“He just needs time,” Vogel said. “He just needs minutes on the floor with these guys. We didn’t get a lot of it in the preseason because we’ve got a veteran team, and he just needs time. The more we’re on the floor together, the more we’re watching film together the next day, he’ll just get more and more comfortable.”
For the most part, that’s probably true, and it’s exactly what a coach should say about a struggling star.
However, it’s not on Westbrook alone to figure things out; Vogel also has to put him in a position to succeed alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and whether it’s due to injuries on the team or a desire to make two big men work, he hasn’t thus far.
Thankfully, it sounds like both sides are committed to making things work, which is really all you can ask for at this stage of the season.