The Lakers’ rounding into form over the last eight games has not coincidentally mirrored the best stretch of Russell Westbrook’s early tenure in purple and gold. After a rough stretch to start the year, Westbrook has found his groove and the Lakers have similarly found success.
As a team, the Lakers are 5-3 over the last eight games, have moved over .500 once more this season, blown out the Celtics in a statement win and have seen Westbrook begin to excel. In that same span, Westbrook has averaged 23.5 points, 8.9 assists, 6.9 rebounds and shot 50.4% from the field and even 36.4% from the 3-point line.
That all was punctuated by Tuesday’s outing when Westbrook exploded for 15 points in the third quarter against the Celtics to spark a third quarter run and eventual win over the Celtics in the Staples Center. After the game, Anthony Davis spoke about Westbrook’s turnaround this season.
“I think at the beginning of the year, Russ was a little bit passive,” Davis said. “He was trying to get guys involved, pass the ball. He’d be at the rim – he had one tonight where he tried to kick it out to Melo where he could have laid the ball up. We tried to tell him to be himself. Don’t try to be anybody else. The more you’re aggressive, the more it’ll open up for everyone else. As of late, the last 7-10 games, he’s been very, very aggressive. And when he does that, it opens the floor for everyone else as far as shooting.
“He’s just been on attack mode. You saw tonight, he went on a stretch in the third quarter where he just went downhill and finished. And that’s what he’s got to do. Before every game, I tell him to be himself. That’s why we brought him here, to be Russell Westbrook and not anybody else but that.”
Westbrook’s efficiency both as a shooter and overall on the court has waned this season. His turnovers were the biggest cause for concern as he averaged 5.4 turnovers per game over the first 14 games. In the last 10 games, though, that figure is down to 3.6 per contest.
Regardless of how efficient he has or hasn’t been, his intensity and relentlessness has been present through every game this season as head coach Frank Vogel noted when asked for the most consistent part of his game this season.
“I’d say pace and paint attack,” Vogel said. “Obviously, energy and the edge that he plays with is always good for your group but he’s relentless in attacking the basket. And how defenses guard him, they try to sag and they try to get under and stuff and he still finds a way. If he’s touching the paint and making great decisions when he gets there, it gives us a lot of offensive support.”
His turnaround has been highlighted in recent games by his scoring outbursts in third quarters. While Vogel noted the reasons for them have varied on a night-to-night basis, they’ve included spurts of 18 points against the Knicks, 13 points against the Kings at home and 11 points in Sacramento all to go along with Tuesday’s performance.
All of the small improvements and little or big changes in his game of late have added up to one big turnaround. And after starting the season trying to fit in, Russ is finally fitting out and being what he’s always been best at: Russ.