— LakerTom (@LakerTom) September 11, 2021
Los Angeles Lakers: Russell Westbrook
Talent rules in the NBA, and Russell Westbrook has a ton of it. From that simplistic perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers were right to trade for him. There’s even some logic to the acquisition if you view it through a more nuanced lens. Russ can be the energetic innings-eater who reduces LeBron James’ playmaking responsibilities and leads second units to break-even stretches while James and Anthony Davis rest.
If all goes well, that plan gets the Lakers to the postseason with low mileage on their two best players, giving the franchise a shot to win its second title in three seasons.
The excitement lies in the uncertainty tied to all of the above.
How talented is Westbrook in the ways that matter most to a team chasing a title? Postseason opponents have exploited his lack of shooting for years, and his off-ball movement and defensive reliability have been disappointing for a player with his tools. And about those tools: Westbrook took a career-low 19.4 percent of his shots from inside three feet last year, and he dunked less frequently than ever. Ahead of his age-33 season, clear signs abound that a player more dependent on athleticism than most is, inevitably, losing explosiveness.
There’s no guarantee Westbrook can succeed in the ideal, somewhat reduced role the Lakers need him to play. And based on his track record, it’s unlikely he’ll be a clear positive in the playoffs.
Westbrook seems to run on defiance and an uncompromising style. It’ll be thrilling to watch him try to prove these doubts wrong.