Dare We Say, The Russell Westbrook Bench Experiment Is Going Well?

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Approximately four minutes into the last few Los Angeles Lakers games, Russell Westbrook reports to the scorer’s table and checks in.

Monday night he stepped in for Wenyen Gabriel, against the Cavs it was for Kendrick Nunn, against the Jazz at home it was for Lonnie Walker IV and against the Pelicans it was for Troy Brown Jr. There’s no real set pattern.

After Monday’s tail-kicking by the Jazz (Lakers were without LeBron James) the Lakers are 2-8, 14th in the 15-team Western Conference. They still can’t shoot. Defense is inconsistent. Anthony Davis has already been hurt.

But No. 0 hasn’t been the problem.

Let’s give credit where it’s due, the beleaguered, wildly overpaid ($47 million) Westbrook has been – dare we say it – good? Maybe not $47 million good, but good?

In fact, has he been so good that maybe the Lakers should think about putting him back in the starting line-up?

The Saga Of Zero

A refresher course on Russell Westbrook’s time with the Lakers.

Last year he was supposed to be the third piece in the Lakers Big Three with James and Davis. Instead, they got hurt (a lot), Westbrook couldn’t shoot, the fans turned on him, and there were some hard words in front of the media.

It became obvious that James, Davis and Westbrook on the floor at the same time didn’t mesh. Too many stars, not enough basketballs to go around.

The Lakers, in the middle of a retool/rebuild/re-teardown (I just made that word up), couldn’t get rid of Westbrook in the off-season, but they tried.

After missing the playoffs, the Lakers hired new coach Darvin Ham and he preached defense and perhaps a new role for Westbrook, potentially coming off the bench.

Westbrook bristled at first, blaming an injury for having never prepped for coming off the bench before in the preseason. You make a former NBA MVP come off the bench and that hurts his rep, and his pride, big time (I mean, he replaces Wenyen Gabriel?). He’s going to chirp.

But now the roles are settling in. Westbrook comes off the bench, plays about 30 minutes, and the Lakers lose. The fans even chanted “We Want Westbrook” the other night.

By the way, the Lakers are 2-8.

Westbrook By The Numbers

In the last four games, Westbrook has shot better than 50 percent. He had a season-high 26 points in 29 minutes in the home loss to the Jazz. He ranks third on the Lakers with 16.3 points a game and fourth in minutes played.

Of course, like everyone else, when his shot is falling, Westbrook looks like a confident, able player.

I’m not a huge stat guy, but one statistic I really like (more so for hockey) is the plus-minus metric basically indicating that when a certain player is on the floor, is his team taking the lead or falling behind?

In the last four games, Westbrook’s plus-minus rating is -7, that’s skewed by the loss to the Jazz Monday night.

For the season, Westbrook’s plus-minus rating is -0.4, which basically means that when Westbrook is on the floor for the Lakers, the game is even.

Anthony Davis’ plus-minus is -4, LeBron’s is -5 and Patrick Beverley, who has been bad for Los Angeles, is -5.3.

Granted, when you’re 2-8, most of your plus-minus ratings will be negative, but Westbrook hasn’t been the issue.

So Do You Start Westbrook?

$47 million is a lot to pay someone who comes off the bench and puts up some quality minutes and scores some points. For that kind of coin, you should be getting serious production at both ends of the floor.

Ham continues to tinker with the Lakers starting five, it’s basically been, when healthy, Davis, LeBron, Walker IV, Beverley and Troy Brown Jr.

That’s not exactly a line-up that can win an NBA title. Let’s just say it’s limited.

But if you insert Westbrook in there, then it can screw around with the team chemistry. When Westbrook comes into the game, he knows that his job is to score, maybe distribute the ball some. If he was a starter, then it changes his thinking.

Still, at 2-8, what do the Lakers have to lose?

The Westbrook Chronicles

The NBA Trade Deadline for this season is Feb. 9, 2023.

There has already been chatter than Westbrook has increased his trade value with his play over the first 10 games of the season. Contenders always want someone who can score coming off the bench. Westbrook has shown he can do that.

He is what he is. A passionate, fiery player who needs the ball in his hands.

The only way he fits in with the Lakers right now is coming off the bench. This is what happens when your franchise in in the middle of a retool/rebuild/re-teardown (I think I like that word). The Lakers know they have one of the greatest players in basketball history in LeBron, but they know that he’s not as healthy as he used to be. Around LeBron are a bunch of spare parts, cobbled together to make a basketball team.

The Lakers are not good. Is there anyone who has watched them play this season who thinks they’re a contender to win the NBA title?

My philosophy all along has been for the Lakers to just try to win as many games as possible to make the playoffs, and then hope LeBron and Davis can carry the team for a while and see what happens. It’ll be interesting to see whether Westbrook is part of that ride.