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Russell Westbrook is doing it to himself – Andscape

Russell Westbrook is doing it to himself – Andscape

Three years ago, when he was still that guyRussell Westbrook hinted at his current dire situation.

Doubts began to spread around his game: missed 3-pointers, bad decisions, a reliance on athleticism over skill. When asked if the criticism affected him, Westbrook he said“I’m blessed with the talent not to give an af-.”

It can be read in two ways: he has the talent not to care what others say, or he has so much talent that he doesn’t care. Both were correct—and now explain why Westbrook’s career is hurtling toward a cliff with the same momentum his offensive edge once had.

At a time when Los Angeles Lakers guard Westbrook was a tornado in sneakers en route to setting the NBA’s all-time record for triple-doubles, his athleticism and ruthlessness made him unique. No one could stop him from finishing at the rim or getting off an accurate middle pull. His 3-pointer has always been questionable, at 30% for his career, but he’s never been afraid to shoot them anyway because of his stubborn self-belief. Above all, Westbrook never, ever stopped attacking. Every night he emptied his flask and lived by the mantra “Why not?

Now approaching his 34thth birthday, Westbrook is no longer able to jump over people, but he keeps trying. His mid-range is sketchy and his 3-ball even worse, but he continues to elevate. Its history refusing to change is unchanged. At this point, with criticism pouring in amid the Los Angeles Lakers’ 0-4 start, Westbrook is basically doing it to himself.

The question “can Russell change his game?” has been following Westbrook since the Oklahoma City Thunder politely kicked their MVP point guard out of town in 2019. For a brief moment, it appeared that adjust with the Houston Rockets, but he didn’t like playing ball and asked for trade. With the Washington Wizards, he played like the Westbrook of old, averaging a triple-double with nearly five turnovers per game. Since joining the Lakers in 2021, there’s been no evidence he’s ready to explain his decline in athleticism and the imperative to expand the floor for teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

When I profiled Westbrook just after he left Oklahoma City, I found a man built and defined by his extremely stubborn nature, who relied on an “me against the world” attitude despite the gifts that got him drafted at 19 and earned him $340 million over the course of his career. “I’m not going to change who I am,” he told me then. “I feel like my mindset has gotten me to this point. But there are ways you can adapt through your mindset and adapt to new teams, adapt to different players, and I can do that.”

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook plays in a game against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 18 in San Francisco.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Now we know: even that adjustment isn’t happening. Russ will always be Russ.

Not to miss anything, I called Hooper and the basketball entrepreneur Devin Williams, who coaches NBA players and watches film like everyone else. Hey Dev, is it just me, or is Westbrook stuck in the past?

“The same thing that made him a great player is what makes him who he is right now,” Williams said. “To be resilient, to be a bit stubborn, to be contrary, to be that tough player that we’ve come to know. But he also hurts in this situation because he won’t adapt.”

I actually feel for Westbrook. Changing the core of your being is difficult. Losing the powers that made you great is painful. Hearing your home crowd murmur, sigh and yell, “Don’t shoot!” when you have the ball—I wouldn’t wish that humiliation on anyone, even if they make $47 million this season.

The Lakers’ problems also run much deeper than Westbrook. General manager Rob Pelinka has built a Frankenstein roster that doesn’t complement James and Davis. Forget it lasersthe Lakers’ role players shoot like them lost their flashlights after the lights went out in the park. Yes, in Monday’s loss at Portland, Westbrook missed a pull-up jumper with 27 seconds left in the game, 18 seconds on the shot clock and the Lakers up by one point — a foul shot in that situation. But just before that, James missed an ill-advised layup 3 with plenty of time left to shoot. Davis deflected the corner 3 side boards. Even though people are begging the Lakers shop Westbrook immediately or even pay him stay at homeneither move would solve the team’s problems.

But still. Westbrook, being Westbrook, isn’t doing himself any favors.

He started the season with a solid game against Golden State: 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Then against the LA Clippers he went 0-for-11, including 0-for-6 from 3, and later described his performance as “Solid, played hard , everything you could ask for.”

Wait – you can’t ask to make one basket?

In the Portland debacle, Westbrook shot 4-for-15 and missed all three of his 3-pointers. That last dunk in crunch time, which Westbrook fired off-balance even though no defender was within six feet of him, and which Blazers coach Chauncey Billups he said after a game they hoped he would take, he encapsulated every criticism of Westbrook’s play. Even if you’re looking for a 2-on-1 shooting opportunity, why not accept your limitations and pass the ball to James or Davis? The only reason is Westbrook’s stubborn denial of the obvious: He’s not what he used to be.

There is precedent for Westbrook’s predicament. “A great player isn’t great because he’s rational,” former Georgetown coach John Thompson told me of his autobiography. “He’s great because he’s irrational.” Thompson talked about Allen Iverson, whose NBA finish should be a warning to Westbrook. When Iverson lost his speed and quickness, when his aura faded and he was asked to come off the bench – when Iverson was no longer that guy – he couldn’t adapt. Two seasons after starting all 82 games and averaging 26 points, he left.

Speaking of coming off the bench: That role has been suggested for Westbrook, but the first time new Lakers coach Darwin Hamm tried it, in a preseason game, Westbrook claimed it was responsible for tweaking his hamstring. He sat out Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets with “hamstring soreness” — and the Lakers were still pummeled.

Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, who used to be that guy and is the ninth all-time leading scorer in the NBA, he was able to extend his career by accepting a significantly reduced role. Vince Carter is another superstar who endured two decades of accepting his decline rather than fighting it.

But Anthony and Carter both shot from 3. With Westbrook, teams are practically begging him to shoot. Now in his 15thth season, Westbrook could be effective on hand-offs, such as cutting off the ball, or holding off the dribble on drives to the rim instead of launching to the rim. But there was no sign of any of that in Los Angeles.

His collapse was painful to watch, like sprinter Usain Bolt pull lame in his last race or baseball great Willie Mays to stumble under fly balls in center field. But unlike those legends, who were admired for giving it their all, there’s a sense that Westbrook’s struggles are avoidable. And he doesn’t seem interested in filling the traditional veteran roles of mentor or locker room leader.

“Clearly you don’t have to be inside the organization to see that there is some stubbornness,” Williams said. “You don’t have to be inside the organization to understand that some things are going on with the stars of that team. If you just watch it, there’s video of how frustrated ‘Bron and AD were with that shot Westbrook took at the end of the game in Portland.”

Williams, a Golden State fan, misses Westbrook, who helped lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012 and then struggled against the Warriors at the start of their dynasty. “Those OKC rivalries against Golden State, that was fun to watch. What pisses me off the most is that when you see a player fall like this, people assume that the player was never good. Like, they forget about the things he did. At the end of the day, Russell was super fun to watch. So obviously you don’t want to see players go out like this. Just don’t.”

It’s clear Westbrook can’t keep doing the things he’s been doing. Why not? Let’s take the man at his word: “I will not change who I am.”

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.





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