Darvin Ham is saying all the right things about Russell Westbrook

Los Angeles Lakers, NBA

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New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham is staying on message in regards to Russell Westbrook, emphasizing his talents ahead of the 2022-23 season.

As the 2021-22 NBA season unfolded, Lakers fans looked about as who was to blame for the 33-49 season.

Former head coach Frank Vogel took the fall as he was unceremoniously fired from his position, while LeBron James and Russell Westbrook — two players who harbored criticism for Westbrook’s trade and poor performance — remained on the roster.

This is to say that the disappointing season was a convergence of factors, some outside of anyone’s control (such as Anthony Davis’ absence due to injury), but Vogel bore the brunt of the blame. And as he watched the Lakers last season, current head coach Darvin Ham saw ways in which he would coach this roster if he had the opportunity. At Summer League, Ham opened up about what he saw in Westbrook and how he hopes to mold him for a future in Los Angeles.

A game analyst paraphrased Ham’s recent comments on Westbrook, saying that Ham watched the Lakers last year and has a “game plan for how to utilize him.” When asked to expand on that, here’s what Ham had to say (via NBATV):

“In today’s game, Russ is known for his huge competitive spirit and the velocity in which he gets up and down the floor pushing the ball. And the thing I said is that you just have to diversify that. Not only will he be leading the charge and pushing the break, but screening and rolling, defending. I have a film put together of him being a pitbull on defense in pick and rolls, against DHOs, chasing guys off pin-downs, guarding screeners, guarding in the post. And that’s where it’s going to start — not only for Russ, but for AD, Bron — we’ve got to get back to playing defense. I think they were either first or second in defense in the year they won the championship in 2020. That’s where it starts, that’s where you make your biggest change and your biggest improvement from an impact standpoint.

Russ, in my opinion, he’s in great shape, he’s durable, and in this system — this four-out, one-in system — he’s gonna have a chance to screen and roll and make plays in the half-roll. He’s gonna have a chance to run on the break, slash, get layups. He’s gonna have a chance to spring out to the corner, flatten the defense, get corner threes. As well as the things that he already does well in terms of getting the ball and pushing the pace and pushing the tempo. I’m excited as hell to have Russell Westbrook on our team.”

Darvin Ham emphasizes everything Russell Westbrook does right ahead of Lakers season

Truth be told, the continuous criticism of Russell Westbrook isn’t going to help him improve his game. Sure, a chip on the shoulder is essential in competing at the elite level, but the energy needs to be refocused to making sure Westbrook is playing his best basketball, period.

While there is room to critique anyone’s game, the unhealthy degree to which Westbrook has been vilified — to the point where his family members received death threats — isn’t productive in getting him to produce on the paint. That has to come from a coach like Darvin Ham who is interested in bringing out the best in his players, and if Ham already sees ways in which he can boost Westbrook’s game, that’s even better.

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