The Lakers blew a 26-point lead in epic fashion on Wednesday to fall to 2-3 through five games.
At the center of it all? Russell Westbrook, who finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 10 turnovers. It’s the sixth time in his career that Westbrook recorded a quadruple-double with turnovers, twice as many as any other player in NBA history.
When asked after the game to assess Westbrook’s performance, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said, “I got to look at the tape.”
In the event that Vogel was too heated to actually check in the moment, we did it for him. Looking more closely at Westbrook’s turnovers within the context of this loss reveals a troubling tendency that’s about far more than a random game against Oklahoma City in October.
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A few observations before diving into the tape.
- LeBron James didn’t play for the second straight game after sustaining an ankle injury earlier in the week. Injuries aside, the Lakers are expected to take a marathon approach to his minute this season and these are the types of games that Westbrook is supposedly most valuable.
- OKC entered 0-4. There isn’t cause for concern just yet, but if the Lakers can’t beat the worst teams without James, that doesn’t bode well for managing minutes and finding ample time to rest.
- The longer the Lakers struggle, the more it becomes harder to brush aside that dreadful preseason during which they went 0-6. Yes, it’s a veteran team. Yes, James didn’t play much. But at some point, the performance of every player not named James and Anthony Davis needs to get better.
- Eight of Westbrook’s 10 turnovers came during the midst of the Lakers’ collapse. After leading 56-30 midway through the second quarter, they were outscored 93-59.
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Russell Westbrook’s quadruple-double
Here are all 10 of Westbrook’s turnovers in all of their glory.
The first one is simply poor execution of what should be the Lakers’ non-LeBron bread and butter: Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis pick-and-rolls. The problem here is that Westbrook makes a bad decision, throwing a lob to Davis who is already surrounded by three Thunder defenders at the rim.
The Lakers have openly opined about playing faster. In this case, Davis runs the floor and attempts to seal the 6’8″ Darius Bazley. If Westbrook throws it at the rim, this is probably an easy two. But he leaves it short and surrenders an easy turnover.
This is just reckless as Westbrook drives baseline into a sea of Thunder defenders. The decision to drive into a clogged lane is exacerbated by an even worse decision to kick to the corner which is already covered. The easy play? Reading Carmelo Anthony’s defender and dropping it back to the ninth all-time leading scorer for a wide-open 18-footer. This should be an easy read.
OK, so this one isn’t Westbrook’s fault and is the perfect indication of one that will get better with more time to gel. If Malik Monk simply turns at the corner off the Kent Bazemore screen, it’s a wide-open corner 3-pointer. It doesn’t look great since Westbrook throws it to nobody but it’s hard to fault him on this one.
Umm… what? This is the exact play we’ve seen from Westbrook for years get a full steam of head and put a helpless defender on a poster. That he didn’t even attempt to exert his will perhaps is a not-so-subtle reminder that Westbrook himself is no spring chicken. In his 14th season, does Westbrook still have the juice and explosiveness to attack instead of… well… this.
Another one where this isn’t on Westbrook. Could he have shown a little more urgency in getting to this errant pass and preventing the backcourt violation? Absolutely. But it’s hard to get too much in arms over Westbrook here.
At this point, the Lakers are down early in the fourth quarter. It’s early in the shot clock and Westbrook makes a largely indefensible decision to throw a lob through traffic to Dwight Howard. Again, looking more closely reveals a larger problem which is that nobody on OKC respects Westbrook’s ability to score himself. The help completely sags around the rolling big and Westbrook throws it anyways. Maybe this gets corrected with more reps but at some point, we have to acknowledge the fact that until Westbrook proves he can reliably finish, defenses aren’t going to press.
This should be an easy two. If we’re going blame pie, maybe it’s half on Westbrook and half on Howard. The pass was a little behind but probably good enough for Howard to catch and finish. Again, these are simple plays that boil down to high school level execution.
Chalk this one up as a home team scorer getting a little carried away. In no way should this have been ruled a Westbrook turnover. Numbers never lie… except when they do!
Another easy two. This is just careless and another largely indefensible decision in a close game in the fourth quarter. Of all the things Westbrook could have done within reason, this might have been the worst, short of simply pulling up from half court.
And there you have it — all 10 of Westbrook’s turnovers, some more troubling than others. If we’re being honest, it’s probably closer to seven, which to be clear, isn’t exactly great either.
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We know about Westbrook’s weaknesses off the ball and those will remain a front and center focus all season long and especially once the postseason arrives. When James is in the lineup, Westbrook will have to either knock down open shots or show enough restraint to avoid taking the bait.
The much larger concern is what Westbrook does with the ball in his hands and when the Lakers are sitting James. He needs to be better — MUCH BETTER — if the Lakers are going to emerge from the Western Conference.