Russell Westbrook plays key role in Lakers’ recent wins despite cold shooting


SACRAMENTO — Coming into Saturday night’s game, the Lakers’ four-game win streak probably wouldn’t have been possible without Russell Westbrook.

Before the Lakers tipped off against the Kings, Westbrook was averaging 13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists in his previous four performances. The Lakers outscored opponents by a team-high 46 points in his 107 minutes.

It’s the kind of impact the Lakers once hoped for when they traded for the 2017 league MVP 18 months ago – a multi-faceted playmaker who can also score. Since he started coming off the bench this season, some of the fervor around Westbrook has died down, and the 34-year-old has seemed to settle into the role.

But as ever, there’s always something about Westbrook’s game that can be polarizing: This season, it’s his shooting.

Westbrook was maligned last season for his shot selection, finishing 44.4% from the field and 29.8% from 3-point range. This season, Westbrook is taking just two-and-a-half fewer attempts per game, and his shooting percentage is 40.9% from the field and 28.2% from behind the arc. His shooting mark would be the second-lowest of his career if carried throughout the season; his 3-point mark would be his fourth-lowest.

Efficiency has never been a hallmark of Westbrook’s game (even as an MVP, he shot 45.9% on 2-point attempts). Coach Darvin Ham, one of Westbrook’s biggest advocates, said he’s not too worried about it at this point. The biggest sin, in his opinion, would be for Westbrook to hesitate.

“If he’s posting up a smaller player, I want his focus to be to get to the rim, get to the paint,” Ham said. “ When he gets it on the perimeter, I don’t want that second-guessing himself. I want him to make quick decisions, whether that’s a secondary swing or a quick drive or just catch it and shoot it. And I just think that type of rhythm and that type of halfcourt pace and, again, being deliberate about what you want to do offensively will cure a lot of that, in my opinion.”

The efficiency statistics paint a withering picture of Westbrook’s game: Stat site Cleaning the Glass puts Westbrook in the bottom 10% of combo guards in midrange shooting (29%), points per shot attempt (96.5 points per 100 attempts) and turnover percentage (16.4%).

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Still, Westbrook’s activity throughout the winning streak points to a productive role, if he can find it consistently. Perhaps key: Westbrook has the highest on-court differential for pace on the team, and the Lakers average the fourth-most fast-break points (16.9) in the league.

Ham also complimented Westbrook’s defense of late. He grabbed six steals in the Lakers’ four wins entering Saturday night, and Ham credited his defense against Jimmy Butler as a key factor in the Lakers’ victory over Miami without LeBron James.

“I think some of the force (he has shown),” Ham said. “Tough catches that he forced in the Miami game, and again, him switching off on to (Bogdan) Bogdanovic, and even guarding Trae Young at certain moments. You can tell he’s focused.”

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