After a fairly rocky start to his time in Los Angeles, Russell Westbrook has slowly began to make a positive impact on this Lakers roster, particularly alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Over the last six games dating back to the team’s comeback in Detroit that he almost singlehandedly fueled, Westbrook is averaging 25.7 points, 8.5 assists, 8.3 rebounds and is shooting 49.5% from the field and 33.3% from the 3-point line. It’s a fairly small sample size, but it represents the best five-game stretch of his tenure with the Lakers so far.
Now, as he’s finding more and more success, Westbrook has remained consistent in his willingness to adapt to the situation, something he’s been forced to do a lot this season both, due to being in a new environment with the Lakers as well as with James floating in and out of the lineup.
After Sunday’s win over the Pistons — arguably Westbrook’s best game of the season alongside James and Davis — he talked about his adaptability and his comfort in playing in any role the team needs him to be in.
“I mean, one thing about me (is) I can adapt to anything,” Westbrook said. “I can play 1-5. And I’m very comfortable playing in the dunker spot, rolling, pick-and-rolls, setting a screen, doing whatever it is that our team needs for us to be successful, I can do it. That’s why us going small helps us out. Melo can still space the floor, I can play in the dunker’s spot, I would say I’m a pretty good rebounder for my size, so I take it as a challenge and just do whatever it takes for us to win. And me being in that lineup allows me to do different things and roam and rebound and just be active.”
Long-term — when LeBron James returns from his health and safety protocols absence — one area the Lakers could see some increased versatility from Westbrook could be in the lineups he plays with James as the center. The team debuted that lineup against the Pacers last week and has slowly grown more and more comfortable with it. Westbrook, in particular, has found success in those lineups as a driver to the rim.
In the 24 minutes James and Westbrook have shared the court without a big man on the floor, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 133.3 and a net rating of +27.5, both wildly impressive figures in small sample sizes. Considering his penchant for starting two bigs together, head coach Frank Vogel’s adaptation of playing James at center has opened up a host of possibilities.
And to both players’ credit, they have shown a willingness to try things as well within those lineups that may typically be out of their comfort zones.
Next possession, LeBron gets downcourt and sets the ball screen. Great dish from THT. If this is actually A Thing, then it could be really, really good pic.twitter.com/B8OWA6hMkZ— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 30, 2021
Backing up Westbrook’s quote was also his own bit of experimenting earlier in the season when he and James flashed a two-man game against the Grizzlies to varying degrees of success. The Lakers haven’t gone back to that well for any extended stretch since, but those are the types of sequences that could offer more variety and open things up for the team in the postseason.
Pair the good news of Westbrook’s success in recent games with his willingness to adapt and try new roles, something he has both said and done on the court, and the Lakers find themselves in a good spot with their star guard. As the team looks to begin trending upward, having Westbrook clicking on all cylinders and being a dynamic part of the offense will be imperative.