The Lakers have problems, clearly; a 17-19 record for one of the NBA title favourites is well below-par.
But their most public problem continues to be Russell Westbrook, who’s come under heavy fire for his performances at a time when the 2020 champs really need him.
Westbrook, who’s signed until 2023 on a $91 million ($A126 million) max contract, was brought in as the superstar to take the team to the next level, but it’s been a failed move so far amid chemistry issues.
Watch the 21/22 NBA Season with ESPN on Kayo. Live coverage every week plus every game of the NBA Finals. New to Kayo? Start your free trial >
Sat, 15 Jan
Saturday January 15th
The Lakers have now dropped six of their last seven contests, albeit in the midst of several Covid-19 absences and with Anthony Davis (knee) sidelined, to sit seventh in the West.
Their latest shortcoming came to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday (all times AEDT), where despite leading by 13 points late in the third quarter, crumbled in the final stanza to fall 104-99.
Westbrook had a triple-double but committed five costly turnovers including one in the final minute of the tight fourth quarter, also missing an open layup late in the game.
While Westbrook always stuffs the stat sheet, his mistakes have proven costly and aren’t what you’d expect from a max-contract level superstar and former MVP.
Locked On Lakers podcast hosts Brian and Andy Kamenetzky highlighted how his limitations, particularly in fourth quarters, have been felt more with so many players sidelined.
“Russ has very loud, very important mistakes. High leverage mistakes and moments have been a major problem for Russ all year round,” Brian Kamenetzky highlighted after the Lakers’ loss to the Grizzlies.
“His fourth quarter numbers are not always very good and they were bad again on Thursday.
“They’ve (the Lakers) got to find other guys, particularly if Westbrook is not going to be elite superstar, carry-you-through-fourth-quarters kind of things.”
The numbers tell the story of how poor Westbrook’s play has been in fourth quarters over the Lakers’ last 15 contests. His net rating in third quarters was positive 15.4, but in fourth terms it dropped to nearly minus 19, per Kamenetzky.
“The fourth quarter Russ carrying you question is feeling very dicey these days. It’s not like he hasn’t had good fourth quarters before, but the problem is you don’t feel comfortable that it’s going to be coming,” Andy Kemenetzky said.
“LeBron (James) had a couple of critical fourth quarter turnovers but you don’t worry about LeBron in the fourth quarter.
“As much as we’ve talked all season about Anthony Davis not truly putting his stamp on this team the way we’ve wanted it to, I don’t worry about him at the fourth quarter at all either.
“Russ feels like the proverbial Forrest Gump box of chocolates that you never know what you’re going to get. Maybe you can get by with that when you’ve got LeBron and AD out there.”
Andy Kemenetzky also took aim at Westbrook’s sheepish body language and media treatment after the loss to Memphis — the latter something he’s been notorious for throughout his career.
“He does this periodically after frustrating losses,” he said.
“After a bad loss he goes into this mode where he gives as short as response as humanly possible without going mute, while playing with his phone. There was a lot of that going on.”
Fans across the world also questioned Westbrook’s play against the Grizzlies as ‘Trade Russ’ trended on Twitter on Thursday.
Several more journalists and media US outlets on the platform queried his recent performances and overall fit on the Lakers.
It comes after Westbrook earlier this week shrugged off criticism around his play.
“Honestly, I think I’ve been fine,” he said. “The conversation has been heavily on how I’m playing and what I’m doing, but I think people are expecting me to have f***king 25, 15 and 15, which, that is not normal. Everybody has to understand, like, that’s not a normal thing that people do consistently.”
Fox Sports US’ Shannon Sharpe took exception to Westbrook’s comments, calling for the nine-time All-Star to stop “playing out of control”.
“He doesn’t get it,” Sharpe said on Undisputed on Tuesday. “The Lakers are the ninth seed in the West. They were one of the favourites to win the conference.
“They’re the ninth seed and Russ says, ‘I’m fine.’ Everybody wants him to have 25-15-15 — nobody thinks that. Nobody wants that. They want you to stop turning the ball over, especially in crucial situations.
“They want you to stop playing so out of control on a normal basis. That’s a normal occurrence for you. You say 25-15-15 is not normal. What is normal is you turning the ball over at a high rate. You playing out of control more times than not. You taking terrible shots more times than not. That’s what the Laker nation wants you (not) to do.”