The Lakers might rank second in the league in pace, averaging just under 103 possessions per game, but in the mind of Russell Westbrook, a nitrous boost given human form, they’re still not playing fast enough.
Given that Westbrook is the basketball version of a “Fast and Furious” movie, this is not exactly a shocking opinion. But he also has a point, and after the team’s recent loss to the Chicago Bulls, when asked if he was happy with the team’s pace, Westbrook made it clear he still wants the Lakers to push down further on the gas.
“I mean, it’s still not there,” Westbrook said. “Pace is hard when you keep taking the ball out of bounds. You can push it a lot of times, but playing against a set defense is not always an ideal situation you want to do. We’ve got to get there. We’ve got to run the floor, kick the ball ahead and make easy reads.”
The “easy reads” part of that rings especially relevant, especially given what my colleague Darius Soriano wrote his editorial this morning: “Of the teams who rank in the top 10 in pace this season, only one of them also ranks in the top 10 of percentage of shots taken with 0-4 seconds left on the shot clock.” That team, if you couldn’t guess, is the Lakers.
So while yes, Westbrook is leading the league in turnovers (5.2 per game) — a common refrain when I tweeted out his quote about wanting to play faster — wouldn’t he (and the team) be better served by getting easier reads in transition, and by leveraging their collective speed rather than getting stuck in the mud in the halfcourt, accentuating Westbrook’s worst habits and flaws?
So even if some numbers do point to the Lakers playing fast, Westbrook is right that they would still be well-served to play faster in some aspects of the game, especially when it comes to decision-making in the halfcourt. Encouragingly, they did make some progress in this regard in the game after Westbrook’s comments, their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
Over their first 15 games, the Lakers were taking 8.7 shots per game with four seconds or less left on the shot clock, good for 9.7% of their total offense. In their most recent game, however, the team took just seven shots in that range (7.3% of their attempts). That may seem like a small thing, but progress is progress. Playing fast is great, but if the Lakers just slow down to let their opponents catch up, there is no point. That seems to be mostly what Westbrook was unhappy with, and credit to him for not only responding with his best game of the season, but for (seemingly) getting the team to adjust and improve based on his critiques.
If the Lakers can keep this type of progress going, it will be a positive stride in the right direction for the team. Even if it didn’t come quite as quickly as their first steps while getting out on the break.