When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason, one of the biggest question marks was his ability to play alongside LeBron James. Both are most successful with the ball in their hands, controlling the offense. This meant that James or Westbrook would have to take a step back when they share the court.
Through four games together — and six overall — the pairing has been less effective than the Lakers had hoped. James and Westbrook have shared the court for 107 minutes, holding a -6.0 net rating. There are obviously other factors at play, but the early numbers are less than encouraging.
It was spoken ad nauseam during the offseason that this team was going to need time to learn how to play with one another, and the James-Westbrook pairing is at the forefront of that issue.
James spoke about how he and Westbrook can coexist on the court. “It’s all about progressing, understanding the playmaker you are playing with, understanding his court vision, his awareness. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his passing ability. Being able to see plays before it happens.
“For me, as a receiver, it’s my job to be in position where the quarterback can just make the pass and I have to go get it. Just running the lane with Russ. He’s usually out in front of the pack because of his pace and intensity, but when you run with him, you get rewarded.”
Obviously, there are no chemistry issues between Westbrook and James off the floor. Their friendship is part of what convinced Rob Pelinka to pull the trigger on the trade in the first place. However, something is not clicking on the court, and James’ comments may reveal what he’s planning to do about it.
By referring to himself as the receiver and Westbrook as the quarterback, James has essentially confirmed that he will play off the ball while Westbrook controls it in transition. James will revert to point guard mode in small bursts, when Westbrook is on the bench.
This was always the most likely case. Westbrook was acquired, in part, to take some weight off James’ shoulders, so it only makes sense that the two put together this offensive approach.
This gameplan could very well work, but it’s going to take time for everyone to get adjusted. In the meantime, the Lakers have still managed to hold one of the league’s best offenses.
Westbrook implores Lakers to ‘keep their swag’ through adversity
Westbrook made a simple point when discussing what the Lakers mentality should be early in the season. “Everybody on the outside looking in wants things to click immediately, but that’s just not realistic,” he said.
“Our job is to be able to fight adversity but to do that we have to be together. That’s just what Coach [Vogel] is talking about throughout the game.
“If we continue to do that, we’re moving in the right direction and keeping our swag up. That’s something that I’m big on is keeping our swag and keeping our spirits high. We’re going to see what happens throughout the game, but if our swag is up and we’re playing our best, nobody can really do anything to us.”
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