Among the many disappointing aspects of Russell Westbrook’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers was his inability to make a consistent impact on the offensive side of the court. For all his historical faults, Russ entered the season as someone with a reputation as a scoring and playmaking force. But in those areas where he’d once been unstoppable — particularly in scoring at the rim — weren’t even strengths as Westbrook often became a relative non-factor offensively on most nights.
Of the many challenges Ham is going to face, figuring out how to get consistent positive offensive production out of Westbrook will be chief among them. One way he plans on doing so that will differ from last season will be by putting Westbrook in different situations on the court offensively.
Ham spoke about how he expects to utilize Westbrook in an interview with Dan Patrick on his radio show on Thursday:
“I think the style of play we’re going to have, all of those guys, not only just Russ but LeBron, AD, they’re going to be able to share the load. One thing I mentioned to Russ is the way I’m built, the success I’ve seen, especially most recently in the last nine years and the last four years being with Coach Bud in Milwaukee…one thing we always preached and will continue to preach to be our foundation of our team is a defensive mindset. Being able to defend at a high level and I challenged him and he accepted the challenge. That’s a part of the word sacrifice we used. And being able to move him around in different spaces on the floor as we go back on the offensive end.
Sometimes he’s going to be off the ball slashing, sometimes he’s going to be in the dunker (spot), sometimes he’s going to be initiating things. He may post up a little bit, he may be the screener in pick and rolls. Being able to diversify his plan of attack where he’s not just rushing the ball up the court, facing three defenders every time…everybody needs to be involved with what we’re doing on both sides of the ball and I think it’ll make it easier, lighten the load and also allow us to get stronger as the season gets longer.”
Ham mentions some interesting ways of using Westbrook next season that certainly weren’t ways he was deployed last season. For example, Ham mentions using Russ as a screener. According to NBA’s tracking data, Westbrook was never the roll man in a pick-and-roll situation, though that could be a matter of some semantics as he was used in that role very sparingly early in the year and saw some success in it.
Along those lines, though, Russ wasn’t used in many other ways, and certainly not successfully. He only posted up 99 times, finishing with 0.80 points per possession. Cutting has long been an area Russ has traditionally found success in his career but has often lacked the desire, showcased by him ranking fourth on the team in cuts with 80 total.
The fact remains, though, that regardless of how successful he was in those areas last year, diversifying how Russ is deployed offensively is the best way to try to squeeze the last bits of production out of him next season. Ham has the right approach early on, but the team’s ability to improve will largely depend upon if he can implement that approach — assuming Russ is even on the team next year.