Why Lakers are ‘hopeful’ Russell Westbrook can space floor for LeBron James, Anthony Davis as corner 3-point shooter

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook have reportedly pledged to make their “Big Three” experiment work. New Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he was “excited as hell” to have Westbrook on the team. Everyone in Los Angeles is trying to spin the 33-year-old guard’s status on the team.

But the truth is, the Lakers are only sending these messages because they may be stuck at Westbrook (at least) early in the 2022-23 season. They’re not particularly close to acquiring Kyrie Irving, Buddy Hield, or any other perimeter player that would be a better fit alongside James and Davis.

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At this point, Los Angeles must try to work with Westbrook and adjust his role to avoid another disastrous campaign. During an in-game interview at the Las Vegas Summer League, Ham opened up about his expectations for Westbrook, saying the former NBA MVP needs to ramp up defensive intensity and do more of his offensive work off the ball.

(Video courtesy of Stephen Noh from The Sporting News)

On Tuesday night, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that Westbrook’s 2022-23 Lakers are “hopeful for a percentage increase in corner 3 shooting.” On the surface, that seems like a ridiculous idea. Westbrook is the worst high-volume 3-point shooter in league history, and he shot 29.8 percent on 3.4 attempts from beyond the arc per game last season.

However, there is some evidence that urging Westbrook to take more of his three-pointers from the corners would at least be the best thing out of a bad situation.

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Of the 265 3-point attempts Westbrook started in 2021-22, 214 came from the wings and the tip of the key. He shot 26.2 percent in those areas. The corners were a different story – he went 23 of 51 (45.1 percent) in those spots and found a real comfort zone in the left corner.

Russell Westbrook's 2021-22 shot chart

Westbrook also shot 13 of 32 (40.6 percent) from corners in 2020-21 with the Wizards. Yes, we’re talking small sample sizes here, but the Lakers have to start somewhere if Westbrook is to share the floor with James and Davis.

The problem with Westbrook, as always, is whether he’s actually ready to let go of his ball-dominating style. In his exit interview, he deflected the blame, describing troubles with former Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel and declaring that he never had a “fair chance” at being the best version of himself.

Is the guy who still considers himself a star mentally primed to be a little closer to PJ Tucker? Or is a trade simply inevitable?

Ham and the Lakers are trying to sell the idea of ​​”roleplayer Russ.” Westbrook’s shot card early next season could be a good indicator of whether to buy it.

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