SAN FRANCISCO — Oh you thought Russell Westbrook would have a pedestrian Los Angeles Lakers debut? Come on, now. This is the Lakers we’re talking about.
Westbrook took the court for the first time in a Lakers uniform during Friday’s 121-114 preseason loss to the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, and it surely didn’t go the way that he and the Lakers had hoped. Westbrook played only in the first half, finishing with two points, seven rebounds, four assists and six turnovers on 1-for-7 shooting in 17 minutes.
Four of those turnovers came in just over one minute of game time during a particularly rough stretch of the first quarter.
Aside from the turnovers, which Vogel attributed to Westbrook being too unselfish at times, the Lakers’ newest All-Star seemed out of sorts on offense, unable to finish at the rim or on his few pull-up jumpers. He also failed to attempt a 3-pointer, highlighting the spacing issues that many projected when he signed with the Lakers. Three of his assists came on swing passes to Kent Bazemore for open 3-pointers, and the fourth came on a transition lob to DeAndre Jordan.
As expected, Lakers coach Frank Vogel staggered Westbrook and LeBron James, but — also as expected — they didn’t look very fluid on the offensive end in their minutes together. There was a lot of your turn-my turn, and the Lakers only generated 21 points in 14 minutes (a pace of 72 points per 48 minutes) with both Westbrook and James on the floor.
Now that you’ve got all the ugly details from Westbrook’s debut, do yourself a favor. Throw it all in the trash can.
“We’re not gonna figure it out right now. Everything’s not gonna be figured out in the next week or two,” Westbrook said after the game. “We’ve got a long year. This is the preseason — first game for a lot of us since April, May or something like that. We’ll figure it out.”
Did we expect some clunkiness as Westbrook gets used to playing for his fourth team in four seasons? Of course. Will it get better? Undoubtedly. Not only will the chemistry between Westbrook and James improve, but Westbrook also serves as a contingency in case James or Anthony Davis misses significant time.
“We were really excited about what [James and Westbrook] look like together,” Vogel said before Friday’s game. “But obviously having a third player of a star caliber like Russell is definitely going to help us either in minutes when LeBron (James) is out or help us withstand potential injuries like we had last year, where we struggled.”
James missed 26 of 28 games from late-March to mid-May last season, and the Lakers went 12-16 during that stretch. Davis played just five minutes in the final two games of the team’s first-round playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns due to a groin issue. Adding another player capable of carrying the offensive load should help L.A. avoid such slides this season if injuries should rear their ugly head.
As for the on-court fit, we’ve seen new teammates require significant time to adjust to both James and Westbrook in the past, so it stands to reason that this partnership will take a while to coalesce. But for two former MVPs with Hall of Fame credentials, you have to believe they will figure things out sooner rather than later.
“I’m sure they’ll be fantastic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the James-Westbrook partnership. “You’re talking about two perennial All-Stars, guys who are really, really smart players, guys who can guard multiple positions. … The Lakers have been a big, really powerful team under Frank [Vogel], and they’ve added more power and strength. I think LeBron and Russell will be great together.”
Ultimately James and Westbrook need to get some reps together in game situations, and that’s exactly what preseason contests like Friday’s are for.
“The more minutes we get on the floor, we’ll be able to log those minutes and see what works for the betterment of the team, for the betterment of myself and Russ,” James said after the game. “We’ve got to log the minutes first, though.”