Russell Westbrook made his Lakers debut on Tuesday night as the 2021-22 NBA season tipped off. His first game wasn’t pretty.
Westbrook struggled in the Lakers’ 121-114 loss to the Warriors. He totaled just 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 4 of 13 from the field. He missed all four of the 3-point shots that he attempted and totaled a minus-23 rating for the game, the worst mark on either team.
After the game, Lakers leadership, including head coach Frank Vogel and star LeBron James, expressed confidence that Westbrook would find his way. After all, it’s just “one game,” as James pointed out.
“We want to learn from it, we want to get better, but we won’t harp on it too much,” James said to reporters about the loss. “We’ll get better from it, he’ll get better from it. We’ll put him in positions where it benefits him and benefits our team. I think we’ll continue to learn that as the season goes along.”
Westbrook is on a bit of a learning curve. As Vogel noted, he’s going from being the guy to being a bit of a third wheel of the Lakers’ “Big 3.”
“Him more than anybody it’s going to be an adjustment period,” Vogel told reporters. “He’s coming into our culture, our system and he’s the new guy. And he’s got to find his way. It’s difficult when you’re used to being the guy that has the ball most nights to be able to play off of others like LeBron and AD, so it’s just a little bit different for him. He’s going to be great for us, but it’s going to be an adjustment period.”
Westbrook is used to having more playmaking opportunities than he did on Tuesday night. He has posted a usage rate — a metric that measures what percentage of a player’s plays end in a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover — of 32.5 percent during his career. The NBA average is 20 percent, though it skews higher for point guards and star players, as they have the ball in their hands more often.
However, Westbrook posted a usage rate of just 18.5 percent in his first outing with the Lakers, as James and Anthony Davis had the ball in their hands a lot and finished with usage rates of 32.2 percent (James) and 29.6 percent (Davis) respectively. Westbrook will need to get used to having the ball in his hands less than normal, which Vogel believes will come once he feels out his fit with the team a bit more.
“He just needs time. He just needs minutes on the floor with these guys,” Vogel said. “We didn’t get a lot of it in the preseason because we’ve got a veteran team, and he just needs time. The more we’re on the floor together, the more we’re watching film together the next day, he’ll just get more and more comfortable.”
James agreed with Vogel, and also noted the pressure that was on Westbrook both externally and internally in his first game with the Lakers,
“I think it was just first-game jitters,” James said. “There probably was a lot going through his mind, just being a kid from L.A., watching the Lakers growing up and then however many years down the road putting on a Laker uniform and stepping into the Staples Center. I can only imagine how many friends and family and contacts he had wanting to come see his first game as a Laker, so those things, those demands, those asks and those people wind down as the season moves along.
“So I’m not worried about Russ at all. He just needs to be himself.”
James isn’t worried about the Lakers either. He knows that they’ll come together as the season goes along.
“This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not instant oatmeal. It’s a process” James said of the Lakers meshing as a team. “You have to get better with it, you have to see things that benefit not only you throughout the course of the game and the course of the season, but what benefits the team.”