After years of struggling to constrain Russell Westbrook, Lakers coach Frank Vogel will now be able to compete alongside him instead of trying to stop him this season.
Despite his baby-faced look, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has spent multiple decades on NBA sidelines. Dating back to 2001, Vogel has been both an assistant and head coach across the NBA landscape, and largely in the Eastern Conference.
That makes him acutely familiar with a player like Russell Westbrook, whose career started in 2008. And while he’s mostly done so from afar, Vogel has seen Westbrook’s progression and coached against it throughout his career, watching him ascend to the highest peak as the league’s MVP.
It’s that experience coaching against Westbrook that makes Vogel most excited about being on the Lakers this season, as he revealed in a recent interview with Nick Hamilton of Nitecast Media.
“Well, the biggest thing is that I no longer have to be afraid to play him (laughs). That’s the No. 1 thing. I’m excited to have him on my side… He’s just the ultimate competitor. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win basketball games, and I’m happy to have that on my side.”
With Vogel spending the vast majority of his coaching career in the Eastern Conference and Westbrook playing mostly in the West, the two only had a few run-ins in their twice-annual meetings during the regular season.
The limited interactions, though, haven’t stopped Westbrook from having big performances against Vogel. In his career, Westbrook has five career 50-point games. Two of those have come against Vogel-coached teams.
The first came in 2015 when Westbrook, a member of the Thunder, had his first 50-point game with 54 points against the Indiana Pacers, then coached by Vogel. In the 2017-18 season, the year in which Westbrook won the MVP, he exploded 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists against the Magic, coached again by Vogel.
But in their most prominent meeting — in the 2019-20 postseason — Vogel got the better of Westbrook and the Rockets. Despite three games from Westbrook with at least 24 points, the Lakers won the series in five games in the second round.
Still, across 23 games including that postseason meeting, Westbrook has averaged 26.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.9 assists on 47.3% shooting. In the 11 regular-season games including and since that 54-point game, Westbrook has averaged 32.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 10.7 assists on 51.3% shooting against Vogel-led teams.
So, when Vogel says he’s excited to not have to coach against Westbrook anymore, visions of 50-point games and 30-point triple-doubles likely flash through his mind in that moment. Fortunately, Vogel will now be preparing alongside Westbrook this season, hoping to replicate that same success, only this time in purple and gold.