Throughout his decorated career, Russell Westbrook has gained as many supporters as he has doubters. Despite winning an MVP and being a regular fixture in the All-Star game, Westbrook also was seen as a stubborn force that played his team out of as many games as he played them into.
On a basic level, those points make his acquisition by the Lakers a controversial one. A forceful, if also bullish, player is not the archetype of one that is a perfect fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, Westbrook has had success in the past playing alongside fellow stars, a fact that new teammate Dwight Howard pointed out while also pointing out his feelings toward how Westbrook is viewed by outsiders.
“I think it will work great,” Howard said of the Lakers new big three in his introductory press conference. “He’s played with superstars before. He’s played with KD and James (Harden), he’s played with Bradley Beal, he’s played with so many superstars, so I don’t think that will be a problem for him. I think he has been underappreciated. I think all of us, really, have been underappreciated.
“But I know that we appreciate each other. We all appreciate what we each bring to the table for this team,” Howard continued in his typically energetic self. “So I think having a guy like Russ is going to get you 15, 16, 20 points a night. He’s going to get you 12 rebounds, he’s going to get you 10 assists, and he’s going to play 110% every single night. How can you not appreciate that? So I’m gonna tell you: ‘I appreciate you, Russ!’ And we ain’t even played a game on the same team yet. But I appreciate what you do, and I think everyone in L.A. is going to appreciate it when you’re holding up that trophy at the end of the season. Why not? There we go! Let’s get it y’all!”
There is some validity to Howard’s point of having success alongside stars. At his best in Houston, Westbrook was able to complement James Harden magnificently as the team shifted to a small ball playstyle. From Dec. 9 through March 10 — just before the season came to a halt — Westbrook averaged 30.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 50.8% field goal shooting across 33 games.
Similarly, last season over the final 40 games of the season largely alongside Bradley Beal, Westbrook averaged 23.7 points, 13.1 assists and 12.6 rebounds on 44.9% field goal shooting, leading the Wizards from the bottom of the lottery to a play-in spot in the process.
Neither situation is an exact replica of the role he’ll need to take with the Lakers, but both offer a reason for optimism that he can have a strong season in Los Angeles. Another perhaps underrated aspect is that he’ll be in a situation and city that welcomes him. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss also recently commented on how the city will embrace Westbrook this season as well.
It’s a unique situation for Westbrook and the Lakers both, but one that each could excel in. With Westbrook having success playing off of superstars and Lakers being a situation that will welcome him, the groundwork is in place for 2020-21 to be a big season for both parties involved.