It feels as if the turning point of the Los Angeles Lakers season at this early stage has been head coach Darvin Ham’s decision to bring Russell Westbrook off the bench. Just as important is Westbrook’s embracing of the role, which has allowed him to thrive so far.
Though Westbrook did struggle with turnovers against the New Orleans Pelicans, he was still an overall positive for the Lakers once again, finishing with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Lakers’ overtime win. While it may be too early to think about awards, that isn’t stopping Ham from getting the conversation started in regard to Westbrook.
“One of my goals selfishly is to get him in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation,” Ham said after the game. “And why not start now? We were dragging in the mud early in the game and he came in and gave us a huge, huge boost. So his fingerprints were definitely all over this game in a positive, productive manner.”
Especially in the first half, Westbrook was excellent, giving the Lakers a much-needed boost after a somewhat slow start.
In the second half, there were some struggles, particularly in terms of taking care of the ball, leading to a moment where Ham could be seen hugging Westbrook while talking to him. Ham revealed what he said to the point guard in that moment.
“I just told him that I love your energy, I love your aggressiveness, but if things don’t work out we got to sprint back in transition,” Ham said. “That’s the first line of defense for us, that’s the first thing we talk defensively in training camp. It’s something we talk about constantly, especially against a team like this that loves to get out and run.”
“You have to have a next-play mentality is what we call it. I told him I don’t mind the competitive turnovers, he’s trying to do something great for our team, doing exactly what I asked the team to do, get downhill and attack the rim. OK, maybe you feel like you got fouled or whatever but whatever the case may be, however it turns out, whistle, no whistle, missed shot, bad pass, whatever. You got to move on to the next play because when you don’t, that one play that you couldn’t recover from mentally can turn into three or four more bad plays.”
That is something that has been an issue not just for Westbrook but others on the Lakers as well. Too often players will complain to the officials, allowing the opposition to gain an advantage in transition. Ham is working hard to break that mindset while continuing to encourage Westbrook.
“So just encouraging him and telling him it’s OK, don’t worry about it man. Just got to have a next-play mentality,” Ham added. “And in the early stages of the season, that’s gonna be that way. There’s gonna be things that even though we came out with the win tonight, there’s a lot of teachable moments within that game.”
Even after winning consecutive games, the Lakers still have a long ways to go in terms of being where they want to be and Ham will continue to do everything in his power to get them there as fast as possible.
Ham told Westbrook he would thrive in bench role
It can be hard convincing a player with the credentials that Westbrook has that the best role for him is to come off the bench, but Ham was able to do that and he opened up about the conversation he had with Westbrook.
“I told him he’s gonna thrive man, just trust me. Trust me. I always told him, your sacrifice, a player of your magnitude for you to do this, it’s gonna send waves,” Ham said. “It’s gonna help our team and I said you can’t look at it like you’re getting so caught up in starting […] And so it’s like, dude I’m putting you in a position where you’re gonna come off, he’s helping us in so many areas coming off the bench.
“Scoring, rebounding, assists, he’s giving those other guys, Austin and those other guys confidence, Matt, Wenyen. So it’s tailor made in my opinion for our group as it’s built for him to be in that role and then gain his rhythm, and then now when Bron and AD are back on the floor, he’s in a good mood, he’s in a good mix because he’s playing and competing at a very high level.
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