The Clippers are about to add another big name to their star-studded roster. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojarowski, Russell Westbrook is expected to finalize a buyout with the Jazz and sign with the team.
The Clippers’ point guard play has been subpar all season. They shipped away both John Wall and Reggie Jackson at the trade deadline, and they seem to believe that Westbrook can help bolster that position. Will it work out?
How Russell Westbrook fills clear need
Westbrook is six seasons removed from his MVP campaign. He obviously isn’t the same player that he was back then. But he isn’t the completely useless player that his haters make him out to be.
DARKO, rated as the best metric in a HoopsHype poll of the NBA community, shows how precipitously all of the Clippers’ point guard veterans have declined from their peaks.
At Wesbtrook’s prime, he was a guy that broke impact-measuring systems. His DARKO impact today ranks at around a net neutral, similar to guards like Monte Morris or Gary Payton II. That’s still a useful player that can give you quality minutes while your stars get some rest, but anyone expecting elite performance from him is aiming too high.
Statistics aren’t going to capture the full impact of Westbrook, though. He had a horrendous fit with the Lakers. That should be a little bit better across the hall with the Clippers. They have needed someone who can get to the rim and collapse defenses, because oftentimes their offense has been stagnant and isolation-heavy. They’re ranked 20th in drives per game per NBA stats and a mediocre 18th in assist percentage. Those issues have led to the No. 21 offense in the league.
The Clippers will be acquiring Westbrook then mostly to answer this question: Can he still get to the rim, make defenses collapse, and spray it out to shooters?
The short answer is yes. Westbrook is still a driving force, even at age 34. Per NBA stats, his 15.1 drives per game are tied for 12th in the league, between strong offensive initiators like Pascal Siakam and LaMelo Ball. That’s much better than what the Clippers had previously.
|Player||Drives per game||Minutes per game|
Westbrook’s finishing at the rim is below average, but he’s still shooting 58 percent at the rim. Even if that’s a 61 percent shot for most guards, a Westbrook layup is not a bad outcome for a possession.
Another thing going for Westbrook is that, unlike the Lakers’ roster, the Clippers have a plethora of deadeye shooters that they can surround Westbrook with to make his job easier. Via Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers have ranked 27th in 3-point accuracy, hitting just 31.3 percent of their looks. The Clippers have been 11th, at 36.0 percent.
How Russell Westbrook could flop in Clippers role
If Westbrook could simply limit himself to setting good screens for the Clippers’ better offensive weapons, driving with reckless abandon, and playing solid defense, then he would be a nice lift for them. Yet there’s reason to be skeptical of that outcome. The Lakers wanted him to fill a similar role, and they couldn’t get the buy-in from him.
Westbrook has a tendency to try and do too much on the floor. He’s become an awful jump shooter, hitting just 32 percent of his midrange attempts and 29 percent of his 3’s per Cleaning the Glass. He will take a few possessions every game, dribble straight into a long jumper, and clank it badly. These poor decisions oftentimes happen in crucial situations as well.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis disgusted after Russell Westbrook bricks a jumper with a 102-101 lead. 17 seconds were left on the shot clock and 30 seconds left in the game. pic.twitter.com/GAa7zWAuRl
— Lakers Daily (@LakersDailyCom) October 23, 2022
Westbrook is also an unwilling screener, despite the Lakers’ coaching staff’s best efforts to change that aspect of his game. The Clippers depend on hunting mismatches for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Will Westbrook help to create those matchups when he refused to do so for LeBron James? That will be something to monitor.
If Westbrook is not willing to embrace a more limited role, then it could be very damaging for the team. George and Leonard control the ball a ton for the Clippers, and very effectively at that. George has been playing at an All-NBA level when healthy this season. After a slow start, Leonard looks like his old self as well.
Westbrook averages less than a point per possession when he shoots it, which in today’s hyper-efficient NBA, is one of the worst numbers in the league for a player that shoots as much as he does. He also turns it over at a very high rate, in the bottom 11 percent of the league via Cleaning the Glass.
|Player||Points per shot attempt||Percentile rank|
Statistics via Cleaning the Glass
What if adding Russell Westbrook doesn’t work out for the Clippers?
The Clippers do have a pretty easy out here if the concerns about Westbrook become valid. They can simply take him out of the rotation. Buyout players are low-risk fliers in the first place.
Ultimately, the Westbrook signing does make sense as a low-risk, medium-reward move. The odds of it working might not be super high, but he will be potentially more impactful than anyone else that they could have signed on the buyout market.
The Clippers also acquired Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon at the deadline. Both can add a little bit of playmaking and a lot of scoring at the guard position. While there will be a lot of fuss about the risks involved with this signing, the Clippers have plenty of fallback options if it goes sideways.