"My Hat's Off To Him": Westbrook Praised After 1st Bench Role In 14 Years

The Russell Westbrook Off The Bench era began Friday night, and despite another Los Angeles Lakers loss, it went much better than anyone expected. LeBron James said "he was great," and that Westbrook's energy "catapulted" the Lakers' overall effort in their 111-102 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Westbrook was not a starter for his team for the first time in 14 years and over 1,000 games. 

Head coach Darvin Ham, too, was extremely pleased with not only Westbrook's acceptance of the situation but also his ability to elevate the team.

"Russ, my hat's off to him once again," Ham said. "Came off and showed the type of impact he can have in that reserve role and shoring up our bench -- not just coming in and trying to maintain anything but coming in and taking it up a notch. So he was great in that role tonight. And I look forward to seeing him in it more once we start getting healthy bodies back."

Westbrook finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, and played a season-high 33 minutes, more than he had been playing as a starter. He finished with a plus-minus of 0, also a season-best. His shooting still left a lot to be desired, however, going 6-for-17 from the field and 5-for-10 from the line. He also turned the ball over five times. 

But at least he didn't react in the same manner as in the preseason, when he blamed the unfamiliar role of coming off the bench for causing a hamstring injury. He was even saying all the right things, too:

"From Day 1, I mentioned I'm the guy that's willing to do whatever for the team," Westbrook said. "I'll sacrifice whatever it is that needs to be sacrificed -- parts of my game that I've done for years to accommodate whatever it is that the coach needs me to do, and I'll continue to do that."

Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports