Russell Westbrook has faced significant troubles adjusting to life alongside superstar teammates in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While there have been some remarkable performances from him this season, Saturday night against the New York Knicks was arguably the worst of his Los Angeles Lakers tenure.
In 29 minutes of play, Westbrook amassed just five points, four rebounds, and six assists. He shot 1-of-10 from the field, 0-for-3 from 3-point range, and 3-of-7 from the free-throw line. He was a game-low minus-15 on the night in a game the Lakers won by seven.
While Westbrook has absolutely helped the Lakers grab some wins this season, they won on Saturday in spite of him. Frank Vogel even made the executive decision to bench him for the entirety of the overtime period, a span that the Lakers won 11-4.
This led to some difficult questions geared towards James and Davis, who famously vouched for Westbrook as a trade target during the offseason. James revealed what he told Westbrook after the game. “I just told him to text me later. I told him to keep going and stop second-guessing himself during the game,” James said. “There was a couple times where he had good looks and second-guessed himself, couple times where he had some drives and second-guessed himself.
“He’s an instinctive player and with what he’s done in this league, he should never second-guess himself. He’s put the work in, so I just told him to just hit me later and I don’t need to harp on what we need to say to him. He’s a big-time player and I have the utmost confidence in his ability. Not only for this team, but for himself individually.”
Davis echoed a similar sentiment, going into greater detail on what Westbrook can do to get out his slump. “Just stay in his ear. He could be frustrated, the fans obviously want to see him play better, but one thing you can’t do is put too much pressure on yourself. You got to go out there and play freely.
“There were some shots tonight that he usually takes in rhythm and he kind of passed up or hesitated,” Davis said of Westbrook. “And me and LB were just trying to tell him, we don’t care if you miss every one, just play. Shoot your rhythm shots, don’t hesitate. Obviously it’s easier said than done just because when you’re in it, obviously you don’t want to be missing shots. He doesn’t try to miss and a lot of shots he takes are shots that he can make. But he just got to stay out of his own head.
“He just got to continue to play and do the little things. When I was going through the whole little thing where I wasn’t playing well, I tried to always do the little things for our team, the intangibles. And that kind of gets you going, gets you in a rhythm. That’s what he has to do. He’s got two days to kind of just get away and try to lock back in against Milwaukee. But as leaders of the team, me and Bron, we try to just continue to talk to him and make sure that he’s not in his own head putting a lot of pressure on himself.”
While benching Westbrook in the overtime period absolutely worked on Saturday night, the Lakers’ preference would not be to have $44 million in salary sitting on the bench in the most important moments. Because of this, L.A. needs to figure out how to optimize their highest-paid player alongside James and Davis.
Yes, this is a difficult task, and it has been proven in a majority of the Lakers’ games this season. But Rob Pelinka, James, Davis, and the entire organization went after Westbrook to ensure they had as much talent on the floor as possible. They’re running low on time to make things work before the postseason.
Malik Monk describes his role as perfect
On the other end of the spectrum, Malik Monk has been everything the Lakers needed and more. He has been their third-best player all season, and proved it with a 29-point performance against the Knicks. Following the game, he described his role with the Lakers as perfect.
“It’s perfect,” Monk said of his role. “This is what I wanted to do my whole career. This is what I’m trying to find. I’m happy that Rob [Pelinka] called me this summer man and gave me the opportunity. I’m going to continue to do that.”
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