Ever since the season started and the Lakers have proved to be a mediocre team, almost all the blame has been placed on Russell Westbrook. It is important fans truly understand what issues the Lakers have and why it has persisted for 2 seasons.
Many people believe that the Lakers’ struggles last season were due to the injuries to LeBron and AD (Anthony Davis). While that is true it isn’t the full story. A major problem the Lakers have faced even when they won the championship was a lack of 3 points shooting on the team. With LeBron and AD being dominant paint players it became difficult to put in a defensive presence and rebounder like Dwight Howard in the game. Once they lost Dwight Howard in free agency and traded JaVale McGee, they lost that size in the interior and with AD’s injury it became difficult to win with a small lineup that didn’t shoot very well.
To solve these problems the Lakers made very good moves in the offseason by bringing in career 40% shooters in Malik monk, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, and Trevor Ariza under minimum contracts. But along with these moves the Lakers front office also made moves that did not help improve their roster but ruined it. The first decision was to let Alex Caruso go. Caruso was an important part of the Lakers championship season and a great defender as well. On the offensive end, while he did not score many points, he was a pretty good distributor of the ball and could cover for LeBron when he went out of the game.
The second move was bringing in Russell Westbrook. It was not all on Westbrook but some of it is. Not because Russell is playing badly but because his style of play does not suit the Lakers system of basketball established by Frank Vogel. Frank Vogel is a coach renowned for his defensive coaching and how he prioritizes defence for his teams. Westbrook is a future 1st ballot Hall of Famer but no one has ever applauded his defence throughout his career. Secondly, Westbrook is an aggressive player that drives to the basket every chance he gets. With 2 paint-dominant players like LeBron and AD inside, the addition of Westbrook clogs up the paint so much that it is almost impossible to make plays through the interior. As a result, Westbrook has been asked to shoot from the outside which he has never been great at.
To LeBron’s credit, he is taking career-high 3 pointers and making more shots from the outside to open up the floor a bit more. But it isn’t enough for the Lakers to go all the way to the finals. The coaching staff must figure out a way to involve Westbrook in the offence and make sure that he is effective when he is out on the court. In my opinion, the only way to ensure that is to have Westbrook play more with the second unit and have him play with LeBron and AD in the final few minutes. That way he can be aggressive throughout the game and can let LeBron or AD be the final shot takers in the end.
This will also open up the floor for AD and LeBron when Westbrook isn’t out there with them. Eventually, the blame falls on Westbrook for not figuring out a way to be effective and help his teammates out, on the coaching staff for not figuring out how to make Westbrook an effective part of their system and finally, the most blame goes to LeBron and the front office. LeBron for signing off on the Westbrook trade and the front office for going through with it without understanding how difficult it would be to incorporate him into the offence with LeBron and AD.
Tomorrow the Lakers play the defending champions, the Bucks. The last time the two teams met, Giannis had 47 while AD had only 17 points in the game. I expect a competitive performance from AD this time and we can see whether the Lakers have finally figured it out or if their struggles are going to continue.