They are both at their best with the basketball in their hands, when they are dictating the actions on the court, when their teams have looked for LeBron James and Russell Westbrook to be the directors.
Now they are teammates on the Lakers and are seeking a seamless transition when it comes to ballhandling duties.
In the view of Lakers coach Frank Vogel, James and Russell are willing partners.
“So far there’s been great willingness to play off of each other and to read each other,” Vogel said after practice Sunday. “And it’s really been pretty seamless in terms of who is bringing it, who is initiating where guys are going to be. And then obviously playing with one another in two-man action. I think that chemistry has been pretty strong to start, but there’s definitely a willingness for those guys to share and to sacrifice and to coexist out there.”
Westbrook led the NBA in assists (11.7) while playing for the Washington Wizards last season. James ranked eighth (7.8).
During his 18-year career, James has a usage rate of 31.5%. Westbrook’s rate is 32.5% over his 13-year career. Usage rate is defined as the estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor. The average rate of a player is 15% to 20%.
Though Westbrook is the point guard, he’s the new player on the Lakers. So, Vogel was asked, has he seen Westbrook pull back some with having the ball in his hands?
“No, he’s still playing the way he always does, and we’re asking him to be effective and aggressive without the basketball — when Bron has it, when AD [Anthony Davis] has it — every bit as much as we’re asking him to do it with the basketball,” Vogel said. “And I thought he’s picked that part up really well.”
Davis is also a part of this mix with James and Westbrook.
And since they are the NBA’s latest Big Three, all eyes will be on them to see how they make this work.
“They’re working together,” Vogel said. “It’s not a one-way street. They’re all talking about coverages and where each other is going to be when the other has the basketball. So, whether it’s post-up action or open-court action, pin-downs, pick-and-rolls, whatever actions those guys are getting in, we’re trying to have a system base where guys are going to be aggressive off the ball.”
Carmelo Anthony played one season with Westbrook, in 2017-18 in Oklahoma City, and has no doubt that the All-Star guard will flourish alongside James and Davis.
“I see the same thing. I see somebody who wants to figure this out, who will figure it out, and who wants to make it work,” Anthony said about Westbrook. “His intensity is always at 1,000, so that’s something we expect out of him every night.”
Vogel said Kendrick Nunn (right ankle sprain) and Malik Monk (right groin strain) “did participate in practice” Sunday but he will have to see how both came through the session before deciding whether they will play in the season opener Tuesday night against Golden State at Staples Center. Vogel said Wayne Ellington (hamstring) didn’t practice.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.