Russell Westbrook is one of the most decorated active NBA players. A member of the league’s 75th anniversary team, Westbrook has been an MVP, an all-NBA selection, an All-Star Game MVP, a scoring champ, an assist leader, and set numerous triple-double records in the process. This season, the Lakers have eyes on adding another trophy to his case.
Now three games into the realignment that has seen Westbrook move to the bench, the Lakers point guard is building a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year, and his head coach is already thinking about it.
“Russ had a helluva night,” head coach Darvin Ham said after the Pelicans win. “In the last three games, he’s been phenomenal. One of my goals selfishly is to get him in the conversation for sixth man of the year at some point, and why not start now? We were dragging in the mud early in the game, he came in and gave us a huge, huge boost. So his fingerprints were definitely all over this game in a positive, productive manner.”
Westbrook was a plus-4 on the evening and stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points (6-of-10 shooting), nine assists, and seven rebounds. Even his six turnovers didn’t faze Ham too much, because they were competitive turnovers in the interest of pushing the pace and getting downhill. The Lakers have needed his playmaking with Dennis Schröder still injured and Kendrick Nunn out of the rotation, and Westbrook has found a nice chemistry with the wing trio of Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves, and Troy Brown Jr.
As far as his sixth-man argument, voters have tended to prioritize players who fill up the box score. Rather than pick sixth men on the basis of defense, the award generally goes to players who score the most, and Westbrook is accounting for a lot of points through his individual scoring and his assists.
Westbrook is currently third in bench scoring among realistic sixth-man candidates behind Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Wood, but he is blowing them away in the assist category (6.7 per game compared to 2.1 and 0.7, respectively) and he has the best plus-minus with a bullet.
The highest-paid Laker probably didn’t come into this season expecting to compete with bench players for a trophy, but he did proclaim a willingness to do whatever it took to help the Lakers win. This is the way he can help his team the most. And if Westbrook is good enough to capture another end-of-season honor, rest assured his head coach will be advocating for him.