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Although the Los Angeles Lakers won their second straight game Sunday evening, defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-103, it wasn’t Russell Westbrook’s finest outing. He recorded nine turnovers — already his third game of the year with at least nine — and scored 20 points on 51.2 percent true shooting.
After the win, Westbrook offered insight into how he views those components of his game. When a reporter suggested Westbrook struggled prior to some important plays late, Westbrook pushed back against that notion under the belief “that’s all a part of the game.”
“My game is not predicated on shots or if I turn the ball over. I miss some shots, that’s part of the game,” he said. “I’m allowed to miss shots. I can do that. Like any other player, I can turn the ball over too.”
WESTBROOK: "My game is not predicated on shots or if I turn the ball over. I miss some shots, that's part of the game. I'm allowed to miss shots. I can do that. Like any other player, I can turn the ball over too. That's all a part of the game." pic.twitter.com/IUYq1K9MFO
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 3, 2022
Here’s the thing: I think Westbrook is largely correct in his assessment. Of course, nine turnovers is suboptimal, but he’s constructed a Hall of Fame career through constant aggression and applying pressure on the defense to create for himself or others. Turnovers come with the territory of a style like that. One fewer turnover per game or so would be preferred, but they’re not soul-crushing plays.
Stagnant possessions leading to missed shots can serve the same purpose as Westbrook giving the ball away while trying to make something happen. His playmaking has been hugely beneficial to the Lakers and is helping LeBron James have his best scoring regular season in recent memory.
I also side with Westbrook on scoring efficiency. Even during his MVP campaign and All-NBA seasons, his true shooting hovered around league average. It’s about 3.5 points below league average this season, which is in line with his production as a member of the Houston Rockets in 2019-20 and substantially better than last year’s mark of 6.3 points below league average. His turnovers per 100 possessions this season are also similar to his prime last decade.
So, yeah, turnovers and sterling scoring efficiency are not what make him an excellent player. Ideally, they’d both be cleaned up, but Westbrook isn’t off-base or just aiming to save face when he says he’s “allowed to miss shots” and “can turn the ball over.” Those flaws are simply part of his nature and while they’re frustrating, harping on them overlooks his exploits: passing, rebounding, transition play and driving.