Compared to what we’ve seen from Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook over the course of his illustrious NBA career, Friday night’s performance against the Atlanta Hawks doesn’t stand out on the stat sheet. Westbrook played 31 minutes, fouling out of the game with nine points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists.
For someone who averaged a triple-double for multiple seasons in a row, not even reaching 10 points might suggest he underperformed. And while he did struggle to finish at the rim — going just 4-of-14 from the field — it was one of his more impactful games of the season.
The 13 assists speak for themselves, showing a pass-first mentality that was praised by head coach Frank Vogel. But turning the ball over just three times and being a team-high plus-22 showed his true impact. When he was on the court, good things happened for L.A.
Vogel believes this game is emblematic of a larger run of improvement from Westbrook within the Lakers scheme.
“Yeah, I definitely think so,” Vogel said when asked if Westbrook is at a turning point. “Zero (turnovers) last game and three tonight. Obviously, doing it with 13 assists, I do think he set the tone to play extra-pass basketball.
“This is what our group has to learn to win at the highest level. We have to become a team-first team and that means playing for each other with the basketball. The man with the basketball being aggressive and looking to create and everybody off the ball being aggressive with screening, cutting, spacing, finding windows for open threes and whatnot. He set a great tone for us in the first half in particular.”
For the amount of criticism that Westbrook has received this season, he has been a relatively steady figure within the Lakers gameplan. He is one of two players to have played in every single game and has improved as the season has gone on.
The Lakers brought in Westbrook to be a tone-setter for energy, hustle, and a go-to guy when LeBron James is out of the game. He is yet to fulfill that last role to the degree that the Lakers were hoping, but he has brought the same level of intensity that has defined his career.
Hopefully, with James now starting at center, Westbrook will continue to improve. Getting Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn back in the lineup will only help, as he’ll have more options with the ball in his hands than ever before.
Vogel seeing team-wide improvements in turnovers
Westbrook is not the only one seeing an improvement in his turnover rate. As a team, the Lakers have done a much better job taking care of the ball in recent games. Vogel spoke about this following their win over the Hawks.
“I just think our guys are being mindful of it. It’s three of the last four we’ve been under 10 with our turnovers. I think playing with the space that we’re playing with is making the game easier for some guys. The reads are a little bit easier, but we know that if don’t beat ourselves, we can be tough to beat.
“We had four 30-point quarters tonight because we had under 10 turnovers and it’s something that we’re constantly talking about with our guys and hopefully we’re showing some improvement.”
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