Analysis: Russell Westbrook could help NBA playoff contender
Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic are doing it. So are LeBron James, James Harden and LaMelo Ball. They are among the six players in the NBA averaging at least 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists per game this season.
That’s two MVP front-runners, three current All-Stars and two other players who should have been, at minimum, under All-Star consideration this season.
There’s one other member of the 15-6-7 club: Russell Westbrook.
As the league gears up for it’s All-Star festivities this weekend, Westbrook is deciding whether he wants to play out this season in Utah — a place where he said a fan made a racist taunt toward him four years ago, sparking an uproar — or accept a buyout after getting traded there by the Los Angeles Lakers and try to latch on with a playoff contender to finish the season.
As long as he’s on another roster by March 1, he’d be playoff-eligible.
There is a market for Westbrook. And there should be.
“If there’s, you know, somebody out there,“ Clippers forward Paul George said a few days ago when asked about his team having an open roster spot.
He paused for a couple of seconds and then said “Russell.” Hey, it’s not tampering if players talk about other players.
“It would definitely improve our team if we had that traditional point guard, to kind of get us in things and make the game easy,” George said. “So, hopefully, Russell sees this and we figure something out.”
The Clippers could use Westbrook. So could Chicago, where even Goran Dragic — the team’s backup point guard — knows the Bulls need help at that spot. So could Miami, where Kyle Lowry has been sidelined of late by knee soreness.
George has a valid, reasonable argument when it comes to why he wants Westbrook on the Clippers. They have shooting. Shooting means spacing. Spacing means lanes to the basket. That’s where Westbrook thrives, getting to the rim, playing fast, driving-and-attacking or driving-and-kicking.
The whole world, especially his many detractors, are very aware that Westbrook is not Stephen Curry from long range. Or Seth Curry. Or probably even Dell Curry at this point. He is not a knockdown shooter and never has been, so it’s puzzling why this is some sort of argument against Westbrook.
At his best, Westbrook was a 34% 3-point shooter. On average, he’s a 30% shooter from beyond the arc. This season, he’s just under 30%.
The $47 million salary for this season is another source of disdain, that someone averaging what Westbrook is averaging — and wasn’t even starting for a Lakers team that has spent the entire season outside of the play-in picture — isn’t playing up to the level of his paycheck. But he’s far from the only veteran in the NBA to have a bloated contract toward the end of the line, part of the final payoff for the deal that he earned when he was an All-NBA player, an MVP, a perennial star. He was paid what the market said he should be paid. And he is far from the only reason why the Lakers struggled in his year-plus with the team.
“It’s really unfair to put the last year and a half (on) one player,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said.
The Clippers see an opportunity. The players in that locker room — and surely some in other locker rooms, too — are convinced that Westbrook would make them better.
“He’s one of the greatest players that ever played the game,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said.
Look at the resume: nine All-Star appearances, part of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, an MVP, two scoring titles, three assist titles, 198 triple-doubles. He has an edge, no question. He’s sometimes abrupt with reporters, particularly when he doesn’t like a question. He’s also the man who, quietly, left a massive tip for hotel staff inside the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World three years ago and urged other players to find ways to thank those people for making the bubble possible.
It’s hard to find a team out there that couldn’t use another 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists per game right now. If the fit is right and a buyout happens, some team could get quite a late-season boost.
“Give him an opportunity to come back,” Morris said, “and he could be dangerous.”
Tim Reynolds is a national NBA writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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