Opinion: Russell Westbrook is the problem

Russell+Westbrook+ends+the+game+with+10+turnovers+and+a+quadruple-double.

Alonzo Adams / USA TODAY Sports / CC BY-NC-SA

Russell Westbrook ends the game with 10 turnovers and a quadruple-double.

When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2021 offseason, a championship was expected. Unfortunately, the Lakers received an inefficient, ball-dominant turnover machine who is a liability on both sides of the court.

At the time of this writing, the Lakers are sitting at the seventh seed in the west and preside over a .500 record. Lakers management has even entertained replacing current head coach Frank Vogel. What has gone wrong?

To answer this question, we have to look back at why LeBron James wanted Russell Westbrook in the first place. After all, Kevin Durant neglected to even mention his departure from Oklahoma City to Westbrook beforehand. Kawhi Leonard ignored Westbrook’s calls to join him and went behind his back to select Paul George as his co-star. In 2019, Westbrook joined his childhood friend, James Harden, in Houston and flamed out. The same scenario held for last year’s stint in Washington.

Nevertheless, LeBron James brought Russell Westbrook to Los Angeles to carry his load. Being the first option on a championship-caliber team is too big a task for James alone, as he is now in his 19th season. Adding another superstar would make LeBron’s job easier and take pressure off the injury-riddled Anthony Davis. Be that as it may, nothing has gone according to plan. 

The Lakers’ aforementioned record puts them at best in the play-in tournament. Not great for a team that should be the favorite to win the west. A large portion of the blame can be attributed to Russell Westbrook. 

On the surface, Westbrook seems to be playing well. This season, he is close to averaging yet another triple-double with 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. However, Westbrook’s triple-doubles often come with inefficiency and turnovers. 

Looking at the shooting numbers, Westbrook jacks up 3.5 three-pointers a game but is shooting them at a clip of 28.9%. That ranks 148th out of 152 qualified players, but it gets even worse: Westbrook shoots free throws at 66.8%, ranking 100th out of 101 eligible players. This is horrendous for someone whose game is rim-running and drawing fouls, not to mention that these are starting point-guard numbers. 

After the Lakers’ Christmas matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, Westbrook ended with a 4 for 20 shooting night and 0 of 3 from deep. For his body of work, he totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists—an ugly triple-double.

“Honestly, I think I’ve been fine. I think people are expecting me to have… 25 [points], 15 [rebounds], and 15 [assists], which is not normal,” he said at a press conference.

Because the Nets were without stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Lakers’ embarrassing loss had fans in disbelief. “What is normal is you [Westbrook] turning the ball over at a high rate. You playing out of control more times than not. You taking terrible shots more time than not,” said Shannon Sharpe, sports commentator and Lakers fan.

Russell Westbrook is third in turnovers this season, only behind James Harden and Luka Doncic. He has routinely been the leader or top three in turnovers for the better part of his NBA career. As a team, the Lakers are fourth in turnovers per game.

In their last meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers squeaked out a narrow victory with Westbrook alone committing nine costly turnovers. Unremarkably, he ended the game with more turnovers than buckets (nine to seven).

“I missed some shots, that’s part of the game. I’m allowed to miss shots. I can do that, like any other player. I can do that. I can turn the ball over too. I can do that. That’s all a part of the game,” Westbrook said in the post-game press conference.

Ultimately, Westbrook’s mindset is the problem; killing his team with turnovers and poor shooting performances sits fine with him. What should have been a valuable addition to a championship team is weighing down the roster every night he steps on the court.