With All Star weekend just wrapping up in Salt Lake City, the NBA season is about to get interesting. Some familiar names are in new places after the trade deadline came to a close. Kyrie paired up with Luka in Dallas and the Phoenix Suns shocked the league by trading for Kevin Durant. On top of this, as much as I hate to admit it, the Lakers made some really big moves by acquiring D’Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Rui Hachimura. The moral of the story? The West just got a whole lot tougher.
Throughout the deadline, there was a serious amount of speculation regarding who the Clippers would target. For as long as the Clippers have had Kawhi and PG, the narrative of needing a “true point guard” has haunted them. This has been dragged on by the media creating a false narrative. Because of this “need”, the Clippers were linked to a variety of point guards, ranging from Mike Conley and D’Angelo Russell to Fred VanVleet. The biggest hole on the roster in my eyes, and many of the Clipper fanbase, is the backup center position. We cannot be a serious team fighting for a championship when we substitute Moses Brown in the game to guard Joel Embiid because Zubac is in foul trouble.
On the final day to make trades, the Clippers pulled the trigger. They traded away John Wall, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard in separate deals and landed Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland, and Mason Plumlee. Losing John Wall was a necessity. Although his comeback story was heartwarming, his play during the season was the exact opposite. Reggie Jackson was, and always and will be, a fan favorite, but it was time to say goodbye. The loss of Luke Kennard stung all Clipper fans at first due to his incredible 3-point shooting abilities, however, his continous reluctance to actually shoot the ball rationalized his departure. Bones Hyland is a really fun pickup as he is extremely young and has a ton of offensive upside, despite his lack of defensive abilities due to his small frame. Eric Gordon is a fantastic veteran pickup of a player who can stretch the floor, but also put the ball on the ground and take it to the rim. Finally, Plumlee was an exceptional piece to acquire as he is a legitimate starting center, but is now backing up Zubac. He rebounds the ball, finishes around the rim, and even brings the ball up the court looking like a point guard. His left-hand free throws will take some getting used to, but overall excellent additions to the squad. The most important part of these new pieces? None of them fit the traditional point-guard mold, a sign that Lawrence Frank and the front office didn’t cave to the media pressures.
The Clippers have played two games with their new-look roster and have looked great. Plumlee, Gordon, and Bones have assimilated into the Clipper culture with ease, playing as if they had been on the roster for the entire season. In those two games, the Clippers won both (PHX and GSW). Their ball movement looked incredible, totaling season highs in assist numbers all without a “traditional point guard.” Despite the new players putting up great statistics and passing the eye test with flying colors, Paul George talked to the media after the game publicly advocating for Russell Westbrook to come and join the Clippers. This is where things get interesting… and very political.
After Paul George advocated for Westbrook, many other Clippers also voiced their opinions. Marcus Morris and Nico Batum made statements saying that they’d love for Westbrook to find a home with the Clippers and that they would welcome him with “open arms.” What makes these comments so interesting is that the front office was standing firm on their decision to not succumb to the pressures of signing a pure point guard. This created a very tricky tug-of-war scenario between the players and the organization.
On Monday morning, we found out who won the Tug-of-War. Confirmed by Woj, Paul George got his wish as Russell Westbrook plans to sign with the LA Clippers. Since this signing, the Twitter timeline has been pure chaos, and with good reason. There is not a more polarizing player in the league than Russ right now. Many fans are outraged at the signing due to the new additions looking so good in their first two games. It really felt like the Clippers have finally found their identity, so why add a wild card to a team that’s rolling right now? A major concern from the Clipper community is the idea of taking Terance Mann out of the starting lineup. The trio of PG, Kawhi, and Mann have a 126.8 Offensive Rating per Game (4th amongst all trios in the NBA). On top of this, the Clippers are 10-2 when that same trio starts together. Inputting Westbrook into this rotation can completely disrupt the progress that this lineup has made.
There’s no way of telling how well Russ will fit with the Clips, but let’s dive into his statistics that has Clipper fans both very nervous and slightly optimistic. Looking at the positives first, Russell Westbrook takes the ball to the rim a lot, which is great for this team. Driving the rim and kicking it to the open man is something that Westbrook can find a lot of success in with the Clips. He has the highest rim AST% in the entire league when he drives the net, and that’s with a weak Lakers team that was putting up historically low shooting splits. The Clippers have much more depth and are filled with shooters, which will play to Westbrook’s advantage, clearing the lane for him to get to work. Another major positive is Russ’s durability. At age 34, he’s only missed 3 games this season, a feat that he’s openly proud of. This is a big positive for a Clippers team that often finds themselves riddled with injuries. He also has had some solid moments defensively when he’s locked in. It’s just a matter of staying locked in.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few negatives about Russ’s game. Westbrook is one of the worst shooters in the entire league. He’s shooting 29.6% on over 5 threes per 36 minutes. On top of that, he’s shooting 25% on pull-up jumpers and 31.3% on catch and shoot 3’s. While he does drive to the net a lot (15.8 times per 36 minutes), he’s only made 51.1% of his layups this season. To make matters even worse, Westbrook is averaging 4.5 turnovers per 36 minutes. Overall, it’s a mixed bag and only time will tell.
As I mentioned earlier, and if you watch the NBA at all you’ll know, Russell Westbrook is easily the most polarizing player in the league. The former MVP has now been on five different teams in five years, struggling to find a home. Can Russ find that home with the Clips? That’s yet to be seen, but the Clippers are no strangers to revamping careers. Reggie Jackson and Nico Batum completely turned their careers around. The proof of concept exists. Now it’s all up to Russ to buy in, accept his role, and get to work. Despite all the noise surrounding the Clippers with their new additions, at the end of the day, it comes down to PG and Kawhi. If they can play at the level we know they are capable of, the sky’s the limit. They advocated for their point guard and they got it.
No. More. Excuses. Just Produce.