The Los Angeles Lakers started the season horrendously. Sliding all the way to a 0-5 start, the Purple and Gold were rooted to the bottom of the western conference. It was the worst start ever for a Lebron James-led team, and they quickly became the league’s laughing stock.
Well, things can change fast in the NBA. After Darvin Ham made the bold decision to move Westbrook to come off the bench, they look like a whole new team. However, could this be the answer for the Lakers to turn their season around?
Running the second unit
A lot has been said about Westbrook as a player in the last number of years. Specifically, in the previous two, it’s gotten to the point where people don’t think he’s a good player anymore. Although teaming up with the Lakers has yet to go well to this point, he’s still a quality player.
Moving Westbrook to the bench unlocks what he’s good at and significantly improves their chances of making the playoffs, even if bookmakers disagree. Currently, you can get odds of -120 for the Lakers to have over 34.5 if you were to place an online bet, which highlights the low expectations around them. The odds to this point are justified, as they have a losing record, but if the trajectory continues the way it has since Westbrook moved to the bench, that is likely to change, although recent losses to the Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers have dampened expectations slightly.
What works about Westbrook playing with the second unit is that he is allowed to initiate the offense. When he runs out with the starters, that is usually the responsibility of LeBron James, and for good reason. James is a ball-dominant player and so is Westbrook, while Davis will get touches inside, being the second-best player on the team. Westbrook is far from a spot-up three-point shooter, and while unable to play to his strengths, his game is greatly hindered.
With the second unit, he can bring up the ball, be the handler in pick and rolls, and have a clear avenue to the basket. He also would be finding open shooters rather than being one. The team has a much better flow by freeing up Westbrook and James.
Having more shooting
One of the problems with a James-Davis-Westbrook lineup is the severe lack of shooting. The best shooter out of the trio is James, but being the de facto point guard, he has nobody to pass to who will hit open shoots. By taking out Westbrook and replacing him with a better outside shooter, James is given the type of team he succeeded with best. It also spreads the floor and creates more room for James and Davis to operate.
The same is true for Westbrook. While running the second unit, he can return to being Mr. Triple Double. He can rebound, drive to the basket, score, and hit the open man for three. The team appears to have a better blend when decent outside shooters surround the star players, and it would be beneficial if they could pick another one up before the trade deadline.
The trade for Westbrook last year appeared to be an unmitigated disaster. The Lakers weren’t even making the playoffs two years after winning the NBA championship. During the offseason, there were rumors that the team might even trade Westbrook. The event never materialized and now the team is pretty much the same as last year. James, Westbrook, and Darvin Ham had to figure out how to make this work.
The Lakers and Wizards have agreed on the trade for Russell Westbrook, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 30, 2021
However, somewhat miraculously, they may have stumbled into a winning formula. The co-existence of stars is by separation. They may not be able to play together, but they can still be key contributors to the same team.
Only time will tell if Westbrook moving to the bench works. For the time being, it will be fascinating to see these great players try to make a good run of it this season.