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Will Russell Westbrook make it work in LA?

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The Los Angeles Lakers had to make changes. It was clear during the postseason that general manager Rob Pelinka had signed the wrong players to go alongside superstars Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Whether it was Marc Gasol being a liability on the defensive end, Wesley Matthews struggling to spread the floor, or even Montrezl Harrell’s inability to provide much offensively, it was evident that changes were coming.  Fast-forward to July 29th, and Rob Pelinka did exactly by trading for Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook. By trading for Westbrook, Pelinka has created a new “Big Three” with Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. However, did Pelinka make another mistake here with the trade?

From the face stats, it seems like Russell would be a great fit, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists a night this past season. Examining Westbrook’s stats on a further level highlights a big weakness in his inability to spread the floor. With any Lebron-lead team, Lebron wants shooters surrounding him at every position. In fact, this past off-season, Pelinka targeted and signed players with a 40% combined average from the three-point line. In comparison with Westbrook, his best shooting season came in 2017, with a below average 34.3% from three, and only 31.5% this past season. Opposing personnel, in simplicity, know that Westbrook struggles to spread the floor. While they don’t emphasize this as much in the regular season, when teams get more time to prepare and scout for each other in the playoffs, this is where Westbrook has been underperforming as of late.

Within the past three playoffs, Westbrook’s efficiency and effectiveness took a massive nose-dive in the postseason, with his averages going down by 4.2 points and his field goal shooting falling from 45% to 37%. Now Rob Pelinka made sure to address this weakness. As hinted earlier before, the Lakers signed guards and forwards that are able to spread the floor such as Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, and fan favorite Trevor Ariza. Even with all these shrewd signings, it still likely won’t help the Lakers to the extent that they’d hope for. In the 2019-2020 season, Russell Westbrook played for the Houston Rockets. With Houston, they maintained a run-and-gun system with head coach Mike D’Antoni that featured superstar MVP James Harden alongside Westbrook. This season, the Rockets shot over half of their attempts from the three-point line, and ranked in the upper half of the league in three-point shooting with a 35.6% team percentage rate.

Despite having a good shooting team, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets still struggled massively in the playoffs. Ironically enough, it was the same Los Angeles Lakers team that would sag off from Westbrook, and dare him to shoot the ball. Within that series, Westbrook shot a putrid 25.9% from three, and 42% from the field.

Besides just the analytics though, Westbrook is a ball-dominant guard; He needs the ball in his hands to be who he is as an aggressive and elite slasher. During the regular season, this shouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, it will likely just help the Lakers with giving Lebron James the much needed rest that he deserves, considering his old age and recent injury history. As the regular season slowly gets in the postseason though, there is only one ball to go around with these three superstars. Lebron James’ selflessness and Anthony Davis’ versatility on both ends of the floor offers hope for this “Big Three” to work out, but it will likely take some time for all three of them to mesh with each other on the court.

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