Lakers News: Darvin Ham Says Russell Westbrook Accepted Challenge To Play Defense
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)

Next season is all about making sacrifices for Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook and new head coach Darvin Ham is in charge of making sure he will do exactly that to return to playing his best basketball.

Westbrook had many low moments on offense in his first season with the Lakers, but he also became a liability on defense. His defensive rating reached 113.6 — the worst of his 14-year career. His steals per game (1.0) were also a career-low.

Ham expressed his belief in Westbrook’s fit next season and highlighted making sacrifices to succeed. He doubled down on those comments and addressed Westbrook’s defense next season in an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show:

“…One thing we always preached and will continue to preach to be our foundation of our teams is a defensive mindset, being able to defend at a high level. And I challenged him, and he accepted the challenge. That’s a part of the word ‘sacrifice’ we use, and being able to move him around at different spaces on the floor as we go back on the offensive end…being able to diversify his plan of attack where he’s not just rushing the ball up the court and facing three defender every time…”

Westbrook’s willingness to buy in on defense was an overall theme last season. It seemed like he was always a step behind on help defense, got caught ball watching and was disinterested in defending.

Ham worked alongside defensive guru Mike Budenholzer for the last nine years. He also coached one of the best defensive guards in Jrue Holiday the last two seasons, which could help in his approach to getting Westbrook to buy in.

But, former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel was a known defensive mind and still couldn’t get Westbrook to commit on that side. The first step for Ham is to be respected by Westbrook — something Vogel wasn’t from the start — and it seems Ham is as the former MVP accepted the challenge of playing defense.

The Lakers were a top defensive team when they won the title in 2020 and Ham knows it will start there. For now, it’s all talk until the season comes around.

Rob Pelinka believes Ham will bring toughness to Lakers

A common word used to describe Ham is toughness. The journeyman basketball player developed thick skin while bouncing around the league and the world playing basketball. As an assistant coach, he also became known for his hard workouts and no-nonsense approach to players.

His accountability and toughness are something that Rob Pelinka hopes Ham will offer next season.

“I think one of the things we lacked as a team last year was an identity of toughness and I think we’re excited to see how Coach with his leadership style will bring those attributes to our team next year,” Pelinka said.

So far, it seems clear that Ham will do exactly that.

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