Five reasons why Russell Westbrook has struggled so mightily as a Laker

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It’s no secret that Russell Westbrook has struggled as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just how badly has the former league MVP struggled?

According to VORP (+0.3) and BPM (-1.1), this has been the least impactful campaign of Westbrook’s career, and according to WS/48 (0.46), it’s the second-least impactful.

In turn, Los Angeles has struggled as a whole, sitting at 23-24 to this point in the season and with the No. 22 net rating league-wide (-1.4).

Below, we break down some of the reasons why Westbrook is having such a down year.

Inefficiency around the rim

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but now that Westbrook’s athleticism has dwindled, his all-around game has fallen off a cliff.

One way we can determine – statistically – that Westbrook isn’t the same level of athlete is that just 34.4 percent of his field-goal attempts are coming from within three feet of the basket. That’s the sixth-lowest mark of his career, and down from 41.5 percent of his field-goal attempts coming from that range just two seasons ago, in 2019-20.

That could be a byproduct of playing with a player like LeBron James, whose game typically requires that teammates become spot-up shooters when he has the ball, since he’s the one doing the playmaking and creating.

But it’s not just that Westbrook is shooting less often from that range, it’s also that he’s converting just 58.2 percent of his chances from that range, the fifth-worst mark of his career. In that same 2019-20 season, when Westbrook was an All-Star and 3rd Team All-NBAer, the 33-year-old shot 64.0 percent from within three of the basket.

He's not near the same threat in transition

In his heyday, Westbrook was an absolute terror in transition, often bringing the rebound down, flying down the court and finishing with rim-rattling dunks that would set NBA Twitter on fire.

That hasn’t been close to the case this season, as Westbrook’s efficiency in transition opportunities has been nearly awful.

According to Synergy Sports, in 205 transition chances this season, Westbrook has scored just 171 points, good for a 0.834 points-per-possession (PPP) mark. That ranks in the league’s 13th percentile, in the poor range, per Synergy, and is a lower mark than the likes of Tomas Satoransky (0.842 PPP) and Patrick Beverley (0.892 PPP).

With Westbrook no longer able to produce easy buckets on the open floor like he used to, his value has diminished to a huge extent, and the Lakers’ offense has struggled as a whole in turn.

He's running more pick-and-roll but without success

The Lakers this season have Russell Westbrook running more pick-and-roll action as the playmaker than he has in the last four seasons, with 28.1 percent of his scoring chances coming from that play type, according to Synergy.

Last season, as a member of the Washington Wizards, Westbook ran the pick-and-roll just 19.1 percent of the time. In his final season with the Houston Rockets, that number was 12.4 percent, in part due to James Harden doing the bulk of the playmaking for the team that year. And in Westbrook’s last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, that mark was 24.7 percent, still lower than this year, despite Westbrook being that team’s only source of offense.

What’s more, statistically, Westbrook has never graded out as a great point-producer as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. That is the case again this campaign, with Westbrook scoring just 0.826 PPP from that play type, in the NBA’s 48th percentile and a less productive mark than Tre Jones.

Shoehorning Westbrook into a role that he’s never truly excelled at just because he’s a point guard for the Lakers has not worked out for Frank Vogel and Co.

He's not getting to the foul line like he used to

When Westbrook had the elite explosiveness that made him special, he was a menace getting to the free-throw line, peaking in 2010-11 when he had a 45.4 percent free-throw rate (the number of three-row attempts a player has per field-goal attempt).

This season, because defenders aren’t struggling to stay in front of Westbrook like they used to, that number is all the way down to 32.3 percent, the third-lowest mark of his playing days in the NBA. That’s the 22nd-lowest free-throw rate among players with at least 300 minutes this season and a usage rate above 27.0 percent.

Even worse, when Westbrook does get to the line for his 5.2 nightly attempts, he’s making just 67.3 percent of his opportunities from the foul stripe, a paltry mark, one that brings the Lakers’ offense down as well.

He's turning the ball over more than ever

Westbrook has always been known as a bit of a reckless player, one whose explosive finishing and will to win would overcome that major flaw.

That isn’t quite the case anymore.

And couple that with the fact that Westbrook is unfathomably turning the ball over more than he ever has in his career and you have a clearer picture of just why Westbrook is struggling so much this season.

In 2021-22, the former UCLA standout is turning the ball over on 18.3 percent of his possessions, the highest mark of his career. That’s the eighth-highest turnover rate of any player with a minimum of 1,000 minutes this season.

A player who has always struggled as a shooter, isn’t getting to the foul line, is performing that poorly in transition and is being asked to play differently than he has in different seasons, there are many reasons why Westbrook has been so poor in 2021-22.

The Lakers will just have to hope he can turn things around, considering his contract will prove difficult to move.

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