The Clippers are about to add another big name to their star-studded roster. Per Adrian Wojarowski of ESPNRussell Westbrook is expected to complete a buyout with the Jazz and sign with the team.
The Clippers’ point guard play has been underperforming all season. They shipped both John Wall and Reggie Jackson to the close, and they seem to think Westbrook can help strengthen that position. Is it going to work?
How Russell Westbrook meets clear needs
Westbrook is six seasons away from his MVP campaign. He’s obviously not the same player as he was then. But he’s not the totally useless player his haters make him out to be.
DARKO, ranked as the top metric in an NBA community HoopsHype poll, shows how precipitously all of the Clippers’ point guard veterans have fallen from their highs.
In Wesbtrook’s heyday, he was a guy who broke batting gauges. His DARKO influence is roughly in the neutral zone today, similar to guards like Monte Morris or Gary Payton II. This is still a useful player who can buy you good minutes while your stars are resting, but everyone from him Expects top performance, aims too high.
However, statistics will not capture Westbrook’s full impact. He had a terrible fit with the Lakers. That should get a little better across the hall with the Clippers. They needed someone who could get to the edge and break down defenses because their offense was often stagnant and isolated. They rank 20th in drives per game per NBA stat and a mediocre 18th in assist percentage. Those issues have resulted in the No. 21 offense in the league.
The Clippers will then take on Westbrook mainly to answer this question: Can he still get to the edge, bring down the defenses and squirt it out on the shooters?
The short answer is yes. At 34, Westbrook is still a driving force. According to NBA stats, his 15.1 drives per game ranks 12th in the league between strong offensive starters like Pascal Siakam and LaMelo Ball. That’s a lot better than what the Clippers had before.
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Westbrook’s finishing on the rim is subpar, but he’s still shooting 58 percent on the rim. While that’s a 61 percent shot for most guards, a Westbrook layup isn’t a bad result for possession.
Another thing that goes in Westbrook’s favor is that, unlike the Lakers roster, the Clippers have an abundance of deadeye shooters to surround Westbrook with to make his job easier. Via Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers ranked 27th in 3-point accuracy, hitting just 31.3 percent on their appearance. The Clippers finished 11th with 36.0 percent.
How Russell Westbrook could flop as the Clippers
If Westbrook could just focus on putting up good screens for the Clippers’ better offensive weapons, driving with reckless abandon, and playing solid defense, then he’d be a nice boost for them. However, there is reason to be skeptical about this result. The Lakers wanted him to fill a similar role and they couldn’t get the buy-in from him.
Westbrook tends to try too much on the floor. He’s turned into a terrible jump-shooter, hitting just 32 percent of his mid-range attempts and 29 percent of his 3s per Cleaning the Glass. He’ll take a few possessions every game, dribble right into a long jumper and rattle it badly. These wrong decisions often happen in crucial situations.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are disgusted after Russell Westbrook bricks a jumper 102-101 ahead. 17 seconds were still on the shot clock and 30 seconds in play. pic.twitter.com/GAa7zWAuRl
— Lakers Daily (@LakersDailyCom) October 23, 2022
Westbrook is also an unwilling screener, despite efforts by the Lakers coaching staff to change that aspect of his game. The Clippers rely on chasing down mismatches for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Will Westbrook help create these matchups if he refused to do it for LeBron James? That will be something to monitor.
If Westbrook isn’t willing to take on a more limited role, it could be very detrimental to the team. George and Leonard control the ball in tons for the Clippers, and they do it very effectively. George has played at the All-NBA level this season when he’s healthy. After a slow start, Leonard also looks like the old man.
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 who shoots as much as he does. He’s also flipping it at a very high rate, in the bottom 11 percent of the league via Cleaning the Glass.
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Glass cleaning statistics
What if the addition of Russell Westbrook doesn’t work for the Clippers?
The Clippers have it pretty easy here if concerns about Westbrook are valid. You can just take it out of the rotation. Buyout players are primarily low-risk flyers.
Ultimately, signing Westbrook makes sense as a low-risk, medium-reward move. The chances of it working might not be very high, but it will potentially be more impactful than anyone else they could have signed in the buyout market.
The Clippers also acquired Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon as of the reporting date. Both can add a little playmaking and a lot of points in guard position. While there will be a lot of fuss about the risks associated with this signing, the Clippers have plenty of retreats if things go sideways.