Following an up-and-down season, fans and media across the League openly questioned how to get the best out of Russell Westbrook during his second season with the Lakers. Coach Darvin Ham has been the most critical voice trying to find new ways to integrate the triple-double king into the offense and maximize his impact.
When the Lakers were set to play their preseason finale, multiple reports said Ham intended to bring Westbrook off the bench against the Sacramento Kings. Westbrook has started every NBA game he has played since his rookie year.
In what later became a 47-point loss, Brodie only played 5 minutes off the bench. He strained his hamstring early on and never returned. After the Lakers suffered an opening day 123-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors a few days later, Westbrook told reporters that he “absolutely” attributed this injury to his temporary bench role.
“I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose — That’s something I just wasn’t accustomed to,” Westbrook said after their regular season debut 123-109 loss against the Golden State Warriors.
Westbrook has played in 1,022 career games and has started 1,005 of them. A bench role later this season is not off the table with improved depth at the point guard after the additions of Patrick Beverly, Dennis Schröder, and the return Kendrick Nunn.
However, in last night’s game, Westbrook showed flashes of why the Lakers traded for him in the first place. In 31 minutes, Westbrook had 19 points and 11 rebounds on 58 percent shooting. He kicked in three assists and a steal as well.
Both his coach and his teammate, Anthony Davis, maintain the game against Sacramento was just an experiment and an exploration of their options. When asked about his decision to start Westbrook on opening night, Ham was complimentary of Russell Westbrook.
“You want to start the game off the right way in terms of your energy and being in attack mode, and no one better than him,” Ham said, who spoke to reporters before Westbrook did after the game. “I mean, it’s what we have, and we got some key guys hurt. It’s Game 1; give them a chance to go out and compete at the highest level. I thought he was solid. I thought he was solid. A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall, I thought he was solid.”
AD stated he didn’t think Westbrook’s realignment to the bench was ever intended to be a real option. Despite the loss, the Lakers Big 3 looked more fluid in their offensive execution, and they thought so too.
“I think we played well,” Davis said. “We wanted to come out, and everybody be aggressive.”
LeBron James added, “I thought we all just kind of played free. And it resulted in all three of us pretty much being efficient from the floor.”
If the Lakers are to right the ship, Westbrook must be healthy and play well. He’s sending the message that he does that best from the starting five.