After the trade deadline, the Clippers saw an opportunity, signing Russell Westbrook once the 34-year-old was bought out by the Jazz. The point guard’s energy could presumably add some toughness and aggression to a Los Angeles roster vying for a seat atop the Western Conference.
However, instead of boosting the Clippers’ NBA championship odds, Westbrook’s addition dropped them from +1100 to +1200. The Clippers, according to the oddsmakers, are worse with Westbrook on the court. I agree with that notion. Here’s why.
What’s Left Of Russell Westbrook?
Quickly, we need to establish the player Westbrook is today. The high-flying MVP candidate from years ago is dead and buried, so the Clippers must milk every ounce of basketball Westbrook has left in him. But, folks, the well is running dry.
Westbrook’s flaws are enormous – he leads the NBA in turnovers per 48 minutes (5.9), his shooting percentage (41.7 percent) is second worst among qualified point guards and his .655 free-throw percentage (also worst among one-guards) makes him hopeless at the line. The nickname “Westbrick” wasn’t conjured out of thin air – he earned it.
|2020-21||Washington Wizards||30-35||-87||Lost 1st Round|
|2021-22||Los Angeles Lakers||31-47||-211||No|
|2022-23||Los Angeles Lakers||25-27||-44||TBD|
Clearly, the UCLA product is no longer a starting guard. He’ll be relegated to a bench role on the Clippers, where his dynamic style (whatever’s left of it, at least) can help in the rebounding and assist departments. That said, I have fears Westbrook’s role in the rotation could decimate one of the more efficient bench units. And there’s plenty of precedent for that prediction.
Westbrook, Like John Wall, is an awful fit
The Clippers shipped out the ailing corpse of John Wall at the trade deadline, only to replace him with Westbrook. This, my friends, is not good business. Wall and Westbrook are nearly identical players this year.
|Player||Minutes Per Game||FG%||3P%||FT%||Usage%|
Beyond Wall’s obvious shooting shortcomings, he did a terrible job of operating a cohesive unit, especially with star players on the floor. As a point guard on a team with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, you want to elevate your stars. Instead, Wall dragged them down.
When Wall and George shared a backcourt, their net points were -0.8 per game, making Wall the only player to produce a negative output when paired with George. Wall also made the team objectively worse – the Clippers were 15-19 when he played and 18-9 when he didn’t.
Stylistically, Wall and Westbrook are very similar. They rely on movement and athleticism without a scoring touch to fall back on. They’re also both high-usage point guards, which is a dreadful proposition for this Los Angeles bench unit that has spread the love and scored at one of the higher rates in the NBA.
Westbrook Will screw up a good bench unit
The Clippers’ bench players average 42 PPG, the third-best mark in the NBA. A lot of that production came from strong three-point shooting (5.3 makes per game, third in the NBA) and free-throw shooting (7.3 makes per game, second in the NBA). Westbrook is terrible at both those disciplines – and, despite that, head coach Tyron Lue made a verbal commitment to putting the ball in the hands of his new point guard.
Ty Lue on Russell Westbrook: “The ball will be in his hands. You don’t average a triple double without having the ball in your hands. We know he can make plays and make the right plays.” I already love Ty Lue man 🐐 pic.twitter.com/iwIgNN2tHB— Beastbrook (@Beastbr00k0) February 23, 2023
But just because Westbrook has no touch doesn’t mean Los Angeles is sunk. Their long-range shooting was critical to the squad’s success in the first half. Luke Kennard was a big part of that, but he got traded to the Grizzlies. The Clippers replaced him by adding Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon, two solid long-range shooters.
The highest-scoring five-man lineup the Clippers employed this season came from a group of Terance Mann (PG), Kennard (SG), George (SF), Leonard (PF) and Ivica Zubac (C). Mann is a low-usage point forward and Kennard was a deep threat. Tossing Westbrook into that crew, even just as a substitution, is a nightmare. The club would be better off going with Hyland as its one-guard and relegating Westbrook to role-player/reserve minutes.
The numbers tell a clear story. When Westbrook plays, he makes teams worse – even good teams like the Clippers can suffer. With Los Angeles making better additions to its role-player rotation, the team needs to be cautious with how it deploys Westbrook, as he could implode the Clips’ playoff chances. And that would be nothing short of a travesty in a wide-open Western Conference race.