The reports of Russell Westbrook’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The man is still playing quality basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers, and it’s been great to see. Sure, the team isn’t quite seeded where they want to be. But things would be a lot worse if the man they have playing off the bench for the first time in his Hall-of-Fame career wasn’t thriving as he is.

Let’s talk about the impressive season he has put forth under the circumstances.

Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate

When the season began, few folks, if any, had a Lakers player in the sixth man of the year race. And if they did, it certainly would not be Westbrook, the one-time NBA Most Valuable Player. He came into the year with a lot of negativity surrounding him, with NBA pundits around the globe down on not only his fit with the team but his ability to still contribute.

Well, to this point in the year, the journeyman has averaged 16-6-7 in nearly 29 minutes per night. He has played without a true center at times, as Anthony Davis has been forced to miss nearly half of the team’s ball games. To put up high assist numbers without having players who can quickly finish around the rim is rather impressive.

He has been able to take over the scoring load at times, scoring 20+ points in a stretch of 5 out of 6 in the prior weeks. He is not going to shine in every appearance, but when he steps on the floor, giving 110% is all he knows how to do.

The Thunder knew this for a long time. The Rockets got to see it for a year before the size experiment failed and blew up in their face. It helped the Wizards be exciting for a season and stun folks with a trip to the opening round of the playoffs, where they even gave the 76ers a scare.

Keeping The Lakers Alive

This article about Russ can’t be written without mentioning that 38-year-old LeBron James is still at the top of his game. Bron is putting up incredible numbers, and though he won’t get many (if any) MVP votes, he will remain in the discussion. It needed to be said that Westbrook himself hasn’t been guiding the team to wins. But it’s fair to say they’d be losing without him.

They have struggled a bit of late, dropping 6 of their last 10 games. But, prior to this, Los Angeles was having their moments. Russ had been putting up some big numbers. There have been stretches this year where he looks like the guy who never left OKC. Who can grab the rebound, bring it down the floor, and knock down the 20-foot shot? Who can make the pass to the open shooter on the other side of the floor with a dart?

There have been days where Russ has just looked old and not like a guy who can lead his bunch. But, few other players in the league (except Tyrese Maxey) can impact the game off the bench in the way that Westbrook has been doing.

The odds of his sixth-man win aren’t going to be all that high. But he is going to be a prime candidate. 

Keep Tabs on the Lakers

Los Angeles is going to make the play-in. Unless LeBron James finishes the season hurt, this team will make it to games that matter. And in a one-game series, the prospect of having to defeat a team with LeBron, Russ, and Anthony Davis is very scary. They are only a few games out now, and winning a few against those right above them is all it will take.

Westbrook’s numbers will climb again before the season lets out. Don’t forget about this squad. Their time in the spotlight is far from over, and a turnaround is coming.