Matt Barnes says LeBron James needs to take a step back for Russell Westbrook to thrive

Peter Dewey
3 Min Read

Former Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes had an interesting take on how LeBron James can help Russell Westbrook thrive in the 2022-23 NBA season.

“I think Bron may have to take a small step back to allow Russ to be Russ,” Barnes said. “You think – you get older your game’s going to change a little bit. You’re going to find a way. I think Russ is going to be Russ. And I think what makes him great sometimes is his downfall.

“But one thing I do know you can’t put Russell Westbrook in the corner. He’s always had the ball in his hands. So, we all know the Lakers are at their best when Bron has the ball in his hands, but I think that, what could happen is allow Russ to have the ball in his hands the first two and a half quarters to really get a feel. Obviously, Bron’s going to have it sometimes there. A.D. (Anthony Davis) will have it sometimes there.

“But, allowing Russ to get his rhythm, so by the time LeBron takes over at the middle of the third quarter and the fourth quarter, when he has the ball is his hands the majority of the time, Russ is already in rhythm.”

There’s no doubt that Westbrook struggled to acclimate himself to the Lakers lineup last season, but it may be a big ask for the Lakers to turn things over to him early in games.

Westbrook is coming off one of the worst seasons of his NBA career, and Los Angeles has already brought in several guards in free agency, a sign that Westbrook could be traded or have a smaller role this season.

Westbrook finished the 2021-22 season averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Those numbers would be great for some players, but not for the standards that the former MVP holds himself to. While Westbrook struggled last season, James had yet another terrific campaign for Los Angeles.

The four-time champion averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The Lakers may not have the depth or talent to allow Westbrook to feel out games early before turning things over to James. The team missed the playoffs last season, and it didn’t make a major addition to the roster in the offseason.

Barnes does have a point with trying to get Westbrook in rhythm, but taking the ball out of James’ hands could be problematic if the Lakers want to compete for a top seed in the West this season.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.