Is Russell Westbrook better without LeBron James? Lakers guard erupts for season high in superstar’s absence
At the final buzzer, the Lakers finished on the wrong side of the 117-114 score against the Hornets but the game was probably among the most significant of the season.
On the second end of a back-to-back, LA was without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and trailed by as many as 20 points around halftime.
In a game that could have easily turned into a blowout, Russell Westbrook had other ideas, showing shades of his MVP-winning 2016-17 season during a second-half explosion.
Westbrook scored 30 of his season-high 35 points after halftime, putting his name alongside his idol and Laker great Kobe Bryant. Along with the 35 points, he had one of his most efficient games (12-23 FGs; 3-7 3s) when attempting 20 or more field goals. Not to mention, just one turnover.
In the third quarter, when the Lakers fought back by outscoring the Hornets by 14, Westbrook (14) along with Carmelo Anthony (10) scored or assisted on 30 of the team’s 36 points in the period.
In the fourth and final period, Westbrook scored 16 of the team’s 29 including a couple of clutch 3-pointers late but he couldn’t deliver the win as he missed the potential game-winning 3.
Postgame, head coach Frank Vogel called Westbrook’s second-half performance “spectacular” and “something we can build on“. On the other hand, Westbrook was disappointed the team couldn’t cap off the comeback but he mentioned that this game served as a reminder that “it’s something that when the team needs me to do it, I can still do it”
But it begs the question:
Is Russell Westbrook better without LeBron James?
The numbers provide a simple answer: Yes.
Westbrook has played in every one of the Lakers’ 50 games this season and in the 14 that LeBron James hasn’t suited up, he’s averaging 22.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds on shooting splits of 45.7 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
On the flip side, in the 36 games in which they both played together, Westbrook’s numbers are as follows: 17.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists on shooting splits of 43.7 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Clearly, Westbrook’s numbers and efficiency seem better when playing without James as he gets more ball-handling responsibilities.
Obviously not playing an MVP candidate in James is not an option for the Lakers, so the team would have to take a hard look at splitting the Westbrook-James minutes, given how much each of the superstar players needs the ball in their hands.
With reports indicating that Westbrook is set to remain with the Lakers beyond the trade deadline (Feb. 10), recent developments especially this game could result in a change of strategy in which the Westbrook mans more second-unit lineups with James on the sideline.