The Whiteboard: Russell Westbrook and 6th Man of the Year candidates

Los Angeles Lakers, The Whiteboard

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Russell Westbrook seemed to indicate he’s willing to come off the Lakers’ bench this season. Could a 6th Man of the Year campaign be coming?

In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski publish last evening, Russell Westbrook seemed to express an openness to come off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

Maybe that’s as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

That’s certainly the way his quote is framed above, although the structure of the piece doesn’t make clear what the exact wording was of Woj’s question that elicited that response. But assuming that Westbrook means what he says, and assuming he can hold himself to that throughout the Lakers’ regular season, he could make for a compelling 6th Man of the Year candidate.

Early last week, I made the argument that linking Westbrook’s minute with LeBron’s instead of Anthony Davis’ would be better for all involved. Bringing Westbrook off the bench may complicate that but it’s not an impossible challenge and he should be able to put up some decent individual numbers regardless of who he’s playing with.

Remember, despite all of his struggles, Westbrook still averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game last season, with a true shooting percentage that wasn’t that far off his career average. He will almost certainly have the numbers to insert himself into the conversation if he ends up as a full-time bench player. His hypothetical candidacy may then come down to how well the Lakers, as a team, are playing. He does have the benefit of narrative creep though — the Lakers get so much attention that if the team is playing well, even if his minutes on the court aren’t driving that performance as much as his minutes on the bench, he’ll likely get a lot of credit.

It’s a lot of ifs — IF the Lakers really bring Westbrook off the bench full time, IF he really commits to the role and embraces it the way he vaguely says he will, IF the Lakers play more cohesively, meaningful improve their record and secure an actual playoff berth — IF all of those things work out, he could be an extremely compelling 6th Man of the Year candidate.

But he’s not the only one…

Jordan Poole looks like a great bet. He was fantastic all season long but really broke out during the playoffs, averaging 17.0 points, 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. It was a confidence-building campaign for a player who already had a surfeit of confidence and seems to set the table for an enormous year. He has the trust of his coaches and teammates and he’s already proven he has the skills to succeed on the biggest stage.

Honestly, the biggest barrier for Poole may be staying out of the starting lineup — he started 51 of 76 games last year, which made him ineligible for the award. If the Warriors are fully healthy, Poole is probably the first guard off the bench but he’s also likely in the starting lineup if Curry or Thompson are hurt or miss any games for load management. But if the Warriors are healthy he has to be one of the clear favorites for the award.

Malcolm Brogdon could shine off the Celtics’ bench. He was traded to Boston this offseason and will be coming off the bench and in the backcourt mix with Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard. Injuries have taken a toll on Brogdon over the past three seasons, and he appeared in just 146 of a possible 227 games for the Pacers. But when he was on the court, he was incredibly effective, averaging 18.9 points, 6.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Brogdon posted a 50/40/90 season in his final year with the Bucks and while his shooting percentages with the Pacers were kind of all over the place, health and the wealth of other scorers around him in Boston should help him level it. Because of his size and defensive ability, he’s going to be working in a variety of lineups ensuring that there are always two or even three other perimeter creators around him. He is the perfect fit for what the Celtics are trying to do and fills a major hole they had during the NBA Finals against the Warriors. If they finish near the top of the Eastern Conference again, Brogdon is going to be hard to overlook.

Tyler Herro could be ready for a repeat. Herro won Sixth Man of the Year last year, averaging 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on a 56.1 true shooting percentage. He took a huge step forward in consistency and was often the most reliable offensive engine for the Heat as Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo all missed significant time with injury.

Miami’s roster is largely the same and there’s no reason to think Herro won’t be able to put up similar numbers again this year. However, it’s possible he doesn’t spend the entire year coming off the bench. Herro had just 10 starts last year but averaged 32.6 minutes per game. With a veteran team that largely stood pat this summer, Erik Spoelstra may need to pull some additional levers during the season if the Heat are struggling to separate themselves from the pack. Moving Herro into the starting lineup is one possibility.


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More from Adrian Wojnarowski’s interview with Russell Westbrook

We touched on the idea of Westbrook coming off the bench above but there were several more can’t-miss quotes from Westbrook in the piece. What you need to read:

  • On whether or not Westbrook feels wanted by the Lakers: “I don’t need to. I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted or not doesn’t really matter.”
  • On how last season’s struggles affected him: “The only thing it affected for me was the impact that it had on the people closest to me — my mom, dad, wife, brother, close friends. We’ve never had to deal with that as a family. That was the most difficult thing — being booed in the arena and having my kids there.”

Jae Crowder is sitting out of training camp while the Suns look for a trade

Brian Windhorst reported last week that the Phoenix Suns were open to trading Jae Crowder. Yesterday, Windhorst added that the Suns and Crowder were in agreement on him skipping training camp until a trade partner is found. What you need to know:

  • Crowder has been outspoken on Twitter about looking for a team where he is wanted. He is in the final year of his contract and due $10.1 million this year, which limits the number of possible trade partners.
  • Crowder shot just 34.8 percent from beyond the arc last season, down significantly from the 38.9 percent he made his first season in Phoenix.
  • ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus still rated him as one of the most impactful defenders in the league last season.

NBA Media Day is here!

26 NBA teams are holding their Media Days today and Twitter should be flooded with boldly optimistic quotes and bold claims of pounds of muscle added. How to watch:

  • NBA.com has a handy list of every team’s media schedule, along with links to live stream.

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