When the LA Lakers needed superstar recruit Russell Westbrook to step up against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, he was more of a detriment than anything.
With LeBron James (abdominal strain) out and Anthony Davis (stomach illness) exiting the game early, the inefficient and overzealous Westbrook struggled with extra responsibilities as the Lakers fell to a horror 105-90 blowout loss on the road.
Westbrook finished with eight points on 1-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from the free throw line and six turnovers with a minus-20 while on the court, adding nine rebounds, six assists and two steals in 29 minutes.
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Meanwhile, his opponent, Damian Lillard, who’s struggled with his shot early in the season, bounced back with a big performance, dropping a game-high 25 points including six three-pointers.
And while it’s still early days in the season and the Lakers’ 5-5 record is hardly alarming, doubts may be starting to creep into a front office that went all in for a championship after making 12 roster additions.
The star point guard — who’s contracted until the end of the 2022/23 season for a total of $91 million (AUD$122 million) – was recruited to help carry the load for the Lakers when the 36-year old LeBron needed to sit out games, like right now.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel confirmed as much prior to Friday’s loss Oklahoma City,
“This is one of the reasons we all felt good about trading for Russell, is being able to handle stretches where we don’t have LeBron or (Davis) better than last year,” he said.
However in games LeBron and Westbrook have played together, the back-court combination has looked clunky. And in contests LeBron has missed, Westbrook has struggled and LA have leaned heavily on Davis.
The Lakers’ two defeats to the lowly-ranked OKC in eight days — the Thunder’s only two wins this season — best reflects their rocky start, while things really fell apart against the Blazers, all be it one game.
Westbrook has now averaged 19 points on 41 per cent shooting from the field and 62 per cent from the line – all his worst returns in 10 years – with just under five turnovers through 10 games.
You very much take the good with the bad with Westbrook, a former MVP and nine-time All-Star, who’s also put up 8.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.3 steals per contest to contribute in several areas at a high level.
But the bad stood out glaringly in his latest down showing against Portland after playing too recklessly and forcing bad shots to draw criticism from the NBA world.
Westbrook, who turns 33 next week, said post-match he wasn’t putting any extra pressure on himself and was focused on playing harder.
“That’s strictly just speaking for myself, do a better job of just being me consistently and not confining my game or how I play because it just doesn’t work for our team,” he said.
“I’m just trying to figure it out, you know? That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve done for the last four of five years, just try to figure it out, coming to a new team.
“Just make the best of the situation and be the player that I am. Find ways to do what‘s better for the team, whatever it is that coach asks me to do.
“With that, there is always a struggle to make sure that I am able to be who I’m supposed to be out on the floor, and that’s doing everything and playing the hardest I can possibly play, and I’ve got to do that for our team.
“And I didn’t do that tonight but that is something I will make sure I do moving forward.”
Vogel wasn’t willing to pin the team’s indifferent form on Westbrook and believes he can turn it around with the right support.
“We all didn’t have a good night, the whole team didn’t have a good night,” Vogel said.
“We’ve got to find ways as a coaching staff to help him and put him in a position to succeed. It’s on all of us to make sure that happens and he gets comfortable and feels good about the environment around him.”