There is likely no Los Angeles Lakers player under more pressure going into the 2022-23 season than point guard Russell Westbrook. Instead of a perfect homecoming for the L.A. native, the fit with him, LeBron James and Anthony Davis never quite worked out and Westbrook took the brunt of the blame and criticism in 2021-22.
Westbrook’s shooting struggles carried on throughout the season as did his issues with taking care of the ball. Additionally, Westbrook’s defense was lackluster as well, leading to Lakers fans turning on him and even showering him with boos at times during home games.
As such, it is no surprise to see Westbrook drop in ESPN’s latest NBARank of the top 100 players in the league going into this season. After coming in at 29 last season, Westbrook fell to 65th with ESPN’s Dave McMenamin asking the question of whether he can be a winning player next to the Lakers’ championship duo:
Can he be a winning player alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis? And if not, can the Lakers find a trade partner to send him elsewhere, or will they simply let his contract come off the books next summer and hang on to those future draft picks? It is the fundamental question that will make or break L.A.’s season.
Throughout the offseason, Westbrook was involved in trade rumors with a number of different teams popping up as potential destinations. But ultimately nothing came to fruition.
New head coach Darvin Ham has continually expressed his excitement at coaching Westbrook, but with the additions of Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schroder, the former MVP could find himself on the bench if he doesn’t deliver.
Last season, Westbrook averaged 18.4 points, 7.4 rebound, and 7.1 assists, a far cry from his peak numbers. But that is to be expected when teaming up with James and Davis. The question is whether he can find a way to impact the game without always having the ball in his hands, and perhaps more importantly, whether he wants to accept that role.
Westbrook finds himself just behind the likes of Jerami Grant, RJ Barrett and Jalen Green in these ESPN rankings, which could serve as motivation. If he can thrive in a new role that Ham has envisioned for him, Westbrook could silence a lot of doubters and help push the Lakers back into contention.
LeBron James ranked 6th, Anthony Davis 20th in ESPN NBARank
Westbrook wasn’t the only L.A. star who dropped in the ESPN rankings, though they were not quite as big as that of the Lakers’ point guard.
James fell three spots to sixth overall in the rankings while Davis dropped out of the top 10, 11 spots overall from ninth to 20th. Perhaps all three could use this as fuel and push the Lakers back to where they want to be.
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