Los Angeles Lakers

Jeanie Buss says Russell Westbrook was the Lakers’ ‘best player last year’


Russell Westbrook struggled mightily with the Lakers and has been heavily featured in trade rumors. But at least one person was happy with his play.

It’s hard to characterize Russell Westbrook’s first season with the Lakers as anything but a disappointment. From his production on the floor, the results in the standings, to the sometimes public frustration between himself and the coaching staff, nothing went the way it was supposed to.

But Jeanie Buss seemed pretty pleased with how he played. In a recent interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic she said:

“All I can say is that, from my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year. He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy. It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team.”

Was Russell Westbrook really the Los Angeles Lakers best player last season?

No. Not by any realistic measure of performance or production. Most every all-in-one metric rated him as a net negative; he had the highest turnover percentage on the team, posted an abysmal 51.2 true shooting percentage to go with his astronomical 27.3 usage rate and the Lakers were outscored by an average of 4.0 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor.

HOWEVER…

He did play a team-high 2678 minutes while appearing in a team-high 78 games. If Buss is looking to motivate LeBron James and Anthony Davis to stay on the court and play with run-through-a-brick-wall intensity on every possession, subtly shading them by praising Westbrook is certainly one way to go about it.

The other upshot here is trying to smooth things over with Westbrook himself, who openly complained of being undervalued and overlooked last season and was frequently mentioned in trade rumors this offseason.

So, no, Russell Westbrook wasn’t the best player on the Lakers last season. Not by a long shot. But it’s completely understandable why Buss would be saying he was. To the credit of interview and interviewee, a little context was added at the end of The Athletic piece:

So after the interview ended, when I realized that I’d failed to follow up quickly enough to get total clarity on this stunning take, I decided to send Buss a note asking if this was her actual belief.

“The word I should have used was ‘consistent,’” Jeanie Buss wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”



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