Russell Westbrook is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster trade. While Westbrook is a huge name headed to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers, the deal makes absolutely no basketball sense. It feels like LA general manager Rob Pelinka got suckered into acquiring a big name who absolutely doesn't fit with the Lakers' other two stars.
The biggest deficiency the Lakers have had for years is a lack of 3-point shooting. James and Davis have struggled to find room to operate in the halfcourt thanks to a lack of floor spacing. During the 2020-21 season, the Lakers hit 35.4 percent of their 3-point shots, which ranked 21st in the NBA. During the 2019-20 season, they hit 34.9 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, which also ranked 21st leaguewide. There's plenty more evidence Pelinka doesn't seem to care much about finding shooters. During the 2018-19 season, the Lakers finished 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting, hitting a dismal 33.3 percent. Yet there has been no urgency from the front office to load up on high-level shooters around James and Davis.
It's a serious problem that has plagued the LA's offense for years and needed to be the team's top priority this offseason. Instead, the Lakers' big move was to import Westbrook, one of the worst volume shooters in the NBA. Russ hit 31.5 percent of his 3-point shots last season. To make matters worse, the Lakers included Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the trade. KCP was the team's best 3-point shooter in 2020-21, hitting 41 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Additionally, Kyle Kuzma made the most 3-pointers on the team last season (137) and he's gone as well.
Sure, Westbrook is flashy and can be really fun to watch. He averaged a triple-double last season, with 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game. But he was wildly inefficient. Despite those counting stats he ranked 44th in efficiency (19.52 PER), was a dismal 65.6 percent from the free throw line and his effective field goal percentage was 50.9 percent.
What the Lakers now have are three lane-clogging stars. LeBron is at his best when he drives, Davis is at his best when posting up and Westbrook is at his best when he gets into the lane and makes plays. None of those guys is an efficient shooter. Opposing defenses will just clog the lane and dare them to take 3-pointers, which is exactly what has happened in the past. When the Lakers get hot from deep, they win, when they don't, it's hideous basketball to watch. They can't win a championship without 3-point shooting.
While the roster isn't complete yet, the Lakers will have very little money to find floor-spacers. Westbrook is owed $91 million over the next two seasons and adding his deal seriously hinders LA's ability to make moves. And the Lakers won't be able to find multiple high-level shooters on veteran minimum deals and the $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception. Plus, they still need to add another center, preferably a starting-caliber guy who's a rim protector.
Again, this is on Pelinka. He's ignored the shift to modern, floor-spaced basketball focused on high-level 3-point shooting for years, and this is the latest example. At the same time he was talking to the Wizards, he reportedly had a deal on the table to sent Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Buddy Hield, one of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the league. Hield is younger, cheaper and a better fit next to James and Davis, but Pelinka opted for the big name and the bad fit.
LeBron James is incredible at figuring things out and finding ways to win. I have no doubt things with Westbrook will be better than the picture I'm painting. But Russ has never played well with others, needs the ball in his hands constantly and makes the Lakers' shooting woes even more pronounced.
Maybe three supremely talented basketball players will find a way to make this work. But on the surface this is an absolutely terrible deal for the Lakers.