Los Angeles Lakers: It is not time to panic about Russell Westbrook… yet

Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook (0) and forward LeBron James (6) walk to the bench during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook (0) and forward LeBron James (6) walk to the bench during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) /

After the Los Angeles Lakers traded for him during the offseason, Russell Westbrook has been placed under a microscope by the NBA fandom.

Everyone wants to know if pairing Westbrook with LeBron James and Anthony Davis could really work as the Lakers take aim at winning a title next season. Fans would get their first look at the former MVP as he took the court in LA’s preseason matchup against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, and it did not exactly go as fans of the purple and gold hoped.

Westbrook looked downright abysmal in his 17-and-a-half minutes on the floor by tallying just two points on 1-of-7 shooting and a grueling six turnovers. It was a brutal debut for the guard in the loss, and fans were not happy. Some even took their displeasure to social media to say that the Lakers should look into trading the guard sooner rather than later. Should fans already be so quick to turn on their new point guard?

Russell Westbrook’s debut with the Los Angeles Lakers was horrendous, but pump the brakes on the panic

As the old expression goes, “it was just a preseason game.” The guard understandably looked very rusty in his return to action after an eventful offseason, but it was good for him to get back out on the court and get some burn with his new teammates. While James played in Friday’s contest, the star-studded trio is yet to play together as Davis sat out. Once they are all on the floor together at some point, fans should once again expect things not to start clicking immediately, whether that be in the preseason or regular season.

Westbrook’s fit in Los Angeles has been questionably from the moment they traded for him. First, the former MVP has been known as a ball-dominant player, having led the league in usage rate on numerous occasions. That means less time with the ball for James, who is about as good of a floor general as anyone that has ever played this game. Secondly, Westbrook is a poor outside shooter, knocking down just 30.5 percent of the triples in his 13-year career. Both of those factors created controversy when the Lakers made the move, so it will take time for everyone to get acclimated.

If there is anyone that can figure out how to make the fit work alongside Westbrook, it is James. The four-time NBA Champion has played with star players consistently throughout his career, and while Westbrook poses a tall order, James can figure it out. Adding Davis into the pot adds another element to that, but this team has 82 games to figure it out before the postseason ultimately rolls around next year. Despite the fit questions, the Lakers are still the betting favorite to come out of the Western Conference next season for most, meaning they could be all the more lethal if they can get it all figured out before then.

All in all, Westbrook looked terrible in his preseason debut, and it was mostly all self-inflicted. Yet, that does not guarantee that his time with the Lakers is doomed to come crashing and burning as they look to win banner 18 next season. The fit is far from conventional, but with James’ pristine leadership, the requisite shooting surrounding the trio, and the overall experience of this roster, it has the potential to succeed. It will take time, as all good things tend to do.

If the fit is still causing concern throughout the season and once the playoffs begin, then the panic would be justifiable. The rumored trade that the Lakers had in place with the Sacramento Kings to acquire sharpshooting Buddy Hield before pivoting to Westbrook could come back to haunt them if that is the case. Hield was always viewed as a more natural fit, but Westbrook became their focus after he was made available. The entire trade saga has been documented here by The Athletic’s Bill Oram, Shams Charania, and Sam Amick (subscription required), and it is a fantastic read.

Time will tell if the Los Angeles Lakers made the right decision, but it is far too early to make any claims after just one preseason matchup.

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