Russell Westbrook has not gotten off to the storybook start he and the Lakers were surely hoping for and envisioning when he returned to his hometown team, and his frustration with himself is clearly and openly building towards a boiling point.
There was after the team’s second loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, when Westbrook snapped at Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times for asking him about his miscues down the stretch — “You saw it. Don’t ask me questions you know the answers to” — as well as the aftermath of the team’s loss to to the Portland Trail Blazers, when Westbrook turned his ire squarely on himself.
It was what he said needs to do better, however, that was enough to make one channel their inner Westbrook and say “Ah, that’s pretty interesting” when hearing it.
“Just from my perspective, just play harder,” Westbrook said when asked what the team needs to do better moving forward. “Do a better job of just being me consistently, and not confining my game or how I play. Because it just doesn’t work for our team. It doesn’t work.
“Just in general, it doesn’t put me in a position or at the pace that I need to play at to better my teammates,” Westbrook continued. “That’s just something I need to make sure I’m consistently doing.”
He’s not wrong, but the downcast, introspective answer could not have been much more of a 180 from Westbrook’s demeanor in the preseason, when he was so clearly unbothered by any miscues that he memorably told reporters “I could turn that bitch over 15 times, ain’t nobody going to do nothing about it.” Ten games in, he hasn’t been too far off that mark, averaging an NBA-high 4.9 turnovers per game despite his lowest usage rate since his sophomore season.
So for Westbrook, less has decidedly not been more. So he’s going to see if more can be what he and the Lakers need. On Saturday, he said that his play is the only thing he has any control over — “That’s the only thing I can control,” Westbrook said. “I can’t control nobody else.” — and that he’s been too passive while trying to fit in.
“I’m just trying to figure it out, you know?” Westbrook said. “That’s what I’ve done for the last four or five years, just try to figure it out, coming to a new team. Just make the best of the situation and be the player that I am. Find ways to do what’s better for the team, whatever it is that coach asks me to do.
“With that, there is always a struggle to make sure that I am able to be who I’m supposed to be out on the floor, and that’s doing everything and playing the hardest I can possibly play, and I’ve got to do that for our team,” Westbrook continued. “I didn’t do that tonight, but that is something I will make sure is done moving forward.”
He’s not the only one whose noticed. It’s been clear to anyone watching that many of Westbrook’s turnovers have come from trying too hard to fit in, attempting to set up his teammates at the expense of looking for his own, of being Russ. And all season long, his co-stars have pushed back on his altruistic urge, with Anthony Davis saying after the team’s first game that they needed Westbrook “to continue to be himself,” and LeBron James constantly repeating that the Lakers “need Russ to be Russ,” that he’s too good to simply fit in.
“It’s always challenging going from a new system, to a new team, to a new group of guys,” James told Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet last week, a smile creeping across his face as he realized he was about to reference one of his most (in)famous tweets.
“You always try to see yourself fitting it,” James continued. “But when you’re a special player, you’ve got to fit out.”
Carmelo Anthony feels like he’s seen his two-time teammate finding his way towards that goal, even if that progress has come in fits and starts.
“In some games that we’ve had at home, we’ve seen him fit right in. We’ve seen him lead the charge, we’ve seen him do what he do, where he’s in attack mode. And we’ve seen nights where he hasn’t been that,” Anthony said of Westbrook’s start. “(But) throughout his whole career he’s always figured it out. He’s always figured out how to make adjustments, what he has to do personally, physically, mentally. We can’t control that. That’s something that he controls and only he knows what he has to do. We’ve just got to be there to support him.”
Westbrook himself is committed to getting there. That much was clear when he was asked what he has to alter about his game with James and Davis out or limited for at least the next several games.
“What I’ve done for 14 years. Ain’t nothing changed,” Westbrook said.
The Lakers will just have to hope that if the style returns, the production will, too.
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