Lakers News: Frank Vogel Believes Russell Westbrook Has Handled Playing With Ball Less Often Well
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Russell Westbrook’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers has required the 33-year-old guard to make several adjustments to his game due to his constantly evolving role.

Westbrook started the 2021-22 campaign by recording heavy usage numbers. The 2017 NBA MVP had a hand in about 28% of plays that ended up in a field goal or free throw attempt, or a turnover over the first 20 games. He also created a vast majority of his shots, as about 74% of his buckets were unassisted during that stretch.

Westbrook’s numbers then dropped to a usage rate of 23.6% and an unassisted field goal percentage of 64.3% before increasing again amid Anthony Davis’ absence and the Lakers’ coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“I think that’s part of what this early season has been like for Russ, it has been an adjustment,” head coach Frank Vogel said about Westbrook’s usage decrease.

“We knew that coming in when we put this team together and I feel like he’s handled it well.”

Vogel said some of the adjustments Westbook has had to implement stemmed from the volatile environment around him and the Lakers, reminding that their rotation has gone through several changes due to injuries and the coronavirus. However, he said figuring out how to co-exist alongside a player as ball-dominant as LeBron James belonged among the greatest challenges Westbrook has faced.

“I just think the volume that Bron has the ball is probably the biggest thing,” the head coach explained. “Obviously he’s played with shooters and rolling bigs throughout his career, at least the last few years. I know when he started out he played all those years with KD, but playing with Bron is different for everybody with the volume that he has the ball.

“But I think the way we’ve played the last few weeks, I think Russ is really making some progress as is our whole team with Bron playing more of a point center role. He’s screening and rolling, either off-ball screens or pick-and-rolls screens more than probably he ever has in his whole career.

“So I think that adjustment by Bron has helped a lot of our guys on the perimeter, including Russ.”

Vogel said the changes in Westbrook’s role could have impacted his in-game rhythm, although pointed out the guard’s usage rate still remains high. Stats show the UCLA alum still has the ball in his hands for a significant amount of time during games — but what he does with it has changed.

Westbrook’s points come less frequently from 3-point attempts and transition plays and more often from drives into the paint, which now make up for 61.9% of his scoring tally.

Vogel explained Westbrook’s move into the dunker’s spot isn’t a new invention, as the Lakers used similar schemes on the offensive end in 2020-21.

“It’s really not that different than anything we did last year when AD was the five when we basically played without a true big, we would fill the dunker with a small usually off of the cutter from the post,” Vogel said.

“Honestly, we’re even evolving to the point where we’re leaving that open and creating more space for guys to go to the basket in post-ups, pick-and-rolls, pindowns, all those types of actions, and then cutting late as opposed to going to the dunker.

“So we’re continuing to evolve our offense, but all of our smalls are active and live to play out of that spot at certain times.”

Westbrook had cold-like symptoms ahead of trip to Sacramento

Westbrook provided the Lakers with another COVID-19 scare, showing cold-like symptoms before L.A. headed up north for a clash with the Sacramento Kings.

But the guard tested negative for the coronavirus and was cleared to travel with the team after not practicing on Tuesday.

“We’re in a pandemic and obviously these types of things are impacting things around the league,” Vogel said. “But thankfully he was negative and cleared to fly with us.”

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