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Lakers News: Russell Westbrook Is Going to Be Crucial to LA's Success

Point guards have become the paramount position in the NBA.

For the better half of a decade, the point guard position has changed in the NBA. In the old days, the point guard was the distributor, and generally a scorer only by necessity or individual skill. 

Even the greatest two point guards of the golden era, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas averaged under 20 PPG for their careers. The PPG total is in part due to another change in the game, however.

Thomas and Johnson both were both not great three-point shooters. For their career, they shot 29% (Thomas) and 30% (Johnson) from beyond the arc, and they both took fewer than 1.5 three-point shots per game. Compare that with Stephen Curry, this generation's premier point guard, whose career percentage from outside is 43% and takes over 8 outside shots per game. 

I'm not here to judge the 80's era or this modern era. I think both eras have beautiful basketball. They're just obviously very different from each other.

In the older days, if you had the top five draft picks--you drafted a big man. Guys like Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon were the men you drafted. The prototypical center. Big men lead teams. Even when Michael Jordan made that shift ever so slightly, it did not change. The Lakers know all too well, and they won titles by throwing the ball down to Shaquille O'Neal. Kobe Bryant didn't win his two titles later on with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The shift was slow.

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Now, the impetus is on your point guard. Curry has won three NBA titles. LeBron James won a title against Curry with Kyrie Irving. Guys like Damian Lillard lead their team. The Phoenix Suns got to the NBA finals once they acquired Chris Paul, despite his age. The Milwaukee Bucks won their NBA championship by helping Giannis Antetokounmpo when they acquired Jrue Holiday. The Toronto Raptors were led by Kyle Lowry to their first NBA title.

The NBA shifted. It now places a much larger premium on outside shooting as opposed to inside big men. Analytics did this, and that's okay. It is still good basketball. 

Russell Westbrook is not a three-point shooter. That's okay. The Lakers don't need him to shift into that, but they do need Westbrook at his best. He penetrates the lane faster than most, and he is excellent at finding the open man. LeBron James is a capable three-point shooter. Anthony Davis is looking to become a capable three-point shooter. The rest of the Lakers is filled with '3 and D' guys who can shoot lights out. 

Westbrook's job is to mesh with the other big names on the team and exploit whatever advantage is there to him. With James and Davis, and even Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook doesn't have to expend all his energy doing what he used to do at every moment. His mid-range jumper? If the defense slacks, do it. If the defense crashes, find another open hall-of-fame-to-be player in the paint or on the wings. Westbrook doesn't have to rain down three's, but he is crucial. Westbrook playing well would also take the pressure off James in handling the ball. This will conserve James' energy and keep the floor spread. 

It's a point guard's league, and the Lakers are either going to exploit this or they're going to get exploited by it. With Westbrook's determination, I'm betting on the former.