Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal stirred some controversy after the NBA’s 75th season began last night. Following new Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook’s poor debut performance, O’Neal labeled Westbrook a “role player.”
“I see Russ as a role player, a damned good one, but he’s a role player. It’s LeBron first, AD second and then Russ.”Shaquille O’Neal
Last night’s game was one to forget for Westbrook. In the Los Angeles native’s debut with his hometown Lakers, he posted just eight points, five rebounds, and four assists to go with four turnovers. Things weren’t much better for him in the preseason, either. In four preseason games, the 9-time all-star averaged a mediocre stat line of 9.5/5.5/5.0.
Yet despite these early struggles, dubbing Westbrook a role player is rather far-fetched. After all, the 32-year old guard is only four years removed from an MVP. He also holds the record for the most career triple-doubles and led the league in assists last season.
His fit in Los Angeles next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis is far from an easy one, but he and the Lakers will have 81 more regular-season games to figure things out. James uplifted his teammate after last night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“I told [Westbrook] don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s one game.”LeBron James
Davis also reassured Westbrook in a press conference after his 33-point game in the season opener.
“My first time, I sat next to [LeBron], he looked at me, and he said, ‘You’re fine, this is Game 1’… And it’s the same thing with Russ… We said some things to him, and he smiled and things like that, so I expect him to be better in the game Friday.”Anthony Davis
Moving forward, the Lakers will take on the defending western conference champion Phoenix Suns this Friday in a rematch of last season’s first round. Perhaps that will be the game where Westbrook puts any role player narratives to rest.