5 reasons Russell Westbrook pushes the Lakers over the top as title favorites

Robert Marvi
7 Min Read

The Los Angeles Lakers shocked the NBA on Thursday by agreeing to send three players and a first-round draft pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook.

The reactions by Lakers fans have been mixed.

Some feel the team is giving up too much for a player who didn’t even make the All-Star team last season, while others are concerned about fit.

True, Westbrook is not an ideal fit. He needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and he is a bad perimeter shooter.

However, he excels at a multitude of other skill sets, and he plays the game with a ferocity that few other players possess.

After the Lakers filled out their roster with 3-point shooters, here’s why Westbrook makes the Lakers the favorites to win next year’s NBA championship.

1. They’ll be the best fast-break team in the league

Russell Westbrook

Over the past couple of seasons, the Lakers have been arguably the NBA’s best fast-break team. Two seasons ago, when L.A. won it all, it ranked second in the league in fast-break points during the regular season.

With LeBron James now 36 years of age, and set to turn 37 early this season, he needs help running the show without tiring himself out.

Like James, Westbrook has always been one of the game’s deadliest players in the open court, being able to grab the rebound and start the break himself.

With Westbrook pushing the ball in transition, James can now run the wing and look to be a finisher, which will conserve his energy (more on that later).

The Lakers will now have a two-headed monster in terms of pushing the pace, instead of primarily relying on an aging James to do all the work in that department.

As a result, it will be Showtime once again in the City of Angels.

2. There will be more rest for the King

LeBron James

Load management has been a hot topic surrounding James. In two of his three seasons with the Lakers, he has suffered significant injuries that have forced him to miss several weeks of action.

James also has more mileage than just about anyone in the game, which theoretically increases his chances of sustaining another big injury.

With Westbrook at the controls, James can conserve his energy while on the court, as he won’t always have to be the guy who has to bring the ball up the floor, set the table and create offense when the shot clock is running down.

In addition, the Lakers have struggled offensively over the past couple of years when James is on the bench. Westbrook would solve that problem, as he can run the team’s second unit and keep the offense humming.

3. Westbrook becomes a reliable 3rd option

Russell Westbrook

Westbrook has always been a proven scorer. He has a career average of 23.2 points per game, and he has led the league in scoring twice.

Last season he put up 22.2 points per game while playing alongside Bradley Beal in the nation’s capital.

It’s axiomatic that a team needs three good or great players to win it all in the current era. Two seasons ago was an exception to this rule, as many contenders around the league possessed dynamic duos, not terrific trios.

Not only would Westbrook boost the Lakers’ offense by giving them yet another proven scorer, but he can put pressure on opposing point guards by making them expend energy on the defensive end.

This would come in handy come playoff time against other star guards such as Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving.

As the old saying goes, sometimes the best defense is a strong offense.

4. He’ll help crash the boards

Russell Westbrook

Former Lakers head coach Pat Riley had a saying, “no rebounds, no rings.”

Westbrook is not only a good rebounder, he’s pretty much an elite one.

He has averaged double digits in that category in four of the last five seasons, and it’s another area in which he can help preserve James.

Rebounding is even more important when a team plays fast-break basketball as the Lakers presumably will, even more than they already have.

Between Westbrook, James and Anthony Davis, L.A. could become a total monster on the boards and prevent its opponents from getting second shots, which would also help its defense.

5. LeBron will finally have a 2nd playmaker

Russell Westbrook

Westbrook is one of the league’s truly elite playmakers. He has averaged double digits in assists five of the last six years, and for his career, he has averaged 8.5 dimes per game.

In addition to helping James, the University of California, Los Angeles product can make life easier for Davis by getting him more dunks and layups.

The Lakers’ 3-point shooters will also benefit, not just by Westbrook getting them the ball, but also by the defensive gravity he is sure to attract when he gets into the paint.

There is no such thing as perfect, and Westbrook surely has his flaws, but his talents and skills will greatly outweigh his flaws.

If the Lakers stay healthy this time around, it’s reasonable to expect them to be playing for the world championship next summer and to have a real shot at winning it.

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Robert is a native of Santa Monica, Calif., and a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been an avid NBA fan since he was a little kid in the mid '90s and fell in love with the Nick Van Exel-led Lakers teams. He truly cherishes the Kobe Bryant-era of Lakers basketball and the five world championships that came with it, and is looking forward to the team's next NBA title.