Russell Westbrook is very aware that he is in a shooting slump. The mere mention of the word “slump” following elicited a response from Westbrook following Wednesday’s loss to the Kings.
“Man, who you telling?” Westbrook said with a wry smile. “I can’t make a f------ shot, boy.”
Westbrook’s performance in Sacramento was rock bottom over his last five games, a 2-for-14 outing from the field punctuated by a missed 3-pointer with 1:07 left and the Lakers down four. Every player in the league is prone to slumps and Westbrook is no different, but given a mixture of his contract, his role within the Lakers and the expectations placed upon him and this team, his play over the last five games has drawn a particular ire of fans.
In that span, Westbrook has shot just 29.3% from the field on 15 attempts per game. He has not made a 3-pointer in that span, or in the year of 2022 for that matter. The cruelest twist of irony is that it has come at a time when his turnovers are as low as they’ve been all season, averaging just a singular turnover per game over the last four contests.
“Honestly, the word slump for is not something I, like, lean on,” Westbrook said. “I stay locked into my craft and figure it out. I’m just in the position of trying to figure out the best way to play at the moment and it’s simple as that. I’ll figure it out and that’s that. Nothing that hasn’t happened to me before. We’ve got a game on Friday. The best thing about the NBA is you get a chance to go back to the drawing board and look at how you can be effective at least from the scoring side of it and make adjustments and find ways to be able to just make a f------ shot. That’s it.”
One of the main reasons Westbrook was brought to Los Angeles was to ease the burden on LeBron James and serve as an insurance policy in case of injury to a superstar. Instead, with Davis out, James has played at an MVP level while Westbrook has taken a position further and further away from the driver’s seat in recent weeks.
Westbrook is no stranger to criticism and scrutiny. Long one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA, Westbrook is often at the center of debates and jokes alike. The latest example came on Wednesday when the Kings arena named Westbrook the “Ice Cold Player of the Game” while serenading him with the song “Cold As Ice” during the contest.
The Kings Arena is too savage for this— Pickswise (@Pickswise) January 13, 2022
Russ finished the game going 2-14 from the floor and 0-5 from 3-PT pic.twitter.com/Nx8hCC6xAF
“I think, for me, I look at it in a positive way and I look at it like this,” Westbrook said on the scrutiny, “since I’ve been in the league, every arena, fans, whoever, the jokes…whatever it is that it may be, I take it as a compliment because if I wasn’t out here and I hadn’t done anything in this game, they wouldn’t even pay no mind to me or pay no mind to what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I look at it as a positive light because if they’re so concerned about what I’m doing, how I’m doing, when I’m doing it, I’m doing something right in this game and I’ll continue to keep my head up and keep my “why not?” mindset and keep using this game to be able to do other things. Simple as that.”
Westbrook will break out of his current slump, as all preceding NBA players have. If anything, Wednesday served as a reminder that basketball is a game — something Westbrook has long been aware of — as he had his most open, honest and, at times, affable press conferences of the season despite being moments removed from one of his worst games of the year amidst unquestionably his worst stretch.
Still, the Lakers have given Westbrook his full support with both Frank Vogel and James offering defenses of their point guard on Wednesday and throughout the last week.
“Just keep working,” James said of his advice to Westbrook. “Obviously, you just put in the work and trust the work you put into it. He’s getting some really good looks. They’re just not going down for him.
“We’re all basketball players, NBA players. Everyone gets frustrated when they go through a slump. That’s natural.”
The impact Westbrook makes in a game has never been limited to only his scoring and that has remained the case throughout his recent slump. On top of the aforementioned low turnovers numbers, Westbrook’s rebounding has been imperative as the Lakers play small and he’s averaging eight rebounds per contest over the last five games.
Too often in this slump — and over the entire season — the Lakers' collective failures have been pinned almost entirely on Westbrook’s shortcomings. While Westbrook has struggled in the last week, the Lakers defense has taken a nosedive in the last two contests and the team as a whole has struggled to shoot the ball in the team’s losses to Memphis and Sacramento, a select few names notwithstanding.
The constantly-changing Lakers have also presented a number of problems to players trying to figure out roles as well. Westbrook, Davis and James have still played just 15 games and a total of 291 minutes together this season despite Wednesday marking the first game of the second half of the season, officially.
With Carmelo Anthony missing Wednesday’s game, Westbrook is now the only Lakers to play every game this season. That comes despite James and Davis each missing significant time and the Lakers going from a traditional lineup to start the year to the micro ball lineup they’ve employed post-Davis injury.
None of this is to explain away the poor performance of Westbrook of late or put it into any prettier light. Westbrook has to play better if the Lakers are to have any hope of fulfilling the expectations they have for this season.
But Westbrook is not the sole cause for the Lakers struggles of late, even if his poor performances have been louder than the rest.
“My confidence never wavers, regardless of scrutiny, regardless of what is said,” Westbrook said. “That’s been my whole career. Doesn’t matter if it’s a conversation of if and what and how and when. We have the group here that’s able to do it and once we kind of all get together and put some stretches of games together and staying healthy, we’re able to kind of see what we can really do as we move the season along – we’re at the halfway point now – but as we get to the playoffs and believe we can do something special.”
The Lakers shouldn’t be fully judged in their current form sans Davis and Westbrook shouldn’t be fully judged in his current form amidst a slump. The Lakers aren’t as bad as their current stretch and Westbrook isn’t as bad as his last five games.
And it would certainly help if both started making some f------ shots.