Russell Westbrook’s Clippers debut: Star guard shines as playmaker next to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

The fifth chapter of Russell Westbrook’s career began with a Clippers’ double-overtime loss to the Kings in a thriller on Friday night.

At the trade deadline, Westbrook was sent from the Lakers to the Jazz in a three-team deal with the Timberwolves, officially ending his tenure with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company. It was immediately made clear that Westbrook wouldn’t suit up for Utah, awaiting a contract buyout to gain the freedom to latch on to a team with championship aspirations.

Once the Jazz reached a buyout with Westbrook over the All-Star break, it paved the way for the nine-time All-Star to join Los Angeles’ other team.

With a void at point guard all season, Westbrook’s former Thunder teammate Paul George campaigned for the front office to sign the former MVP. Once he signed with the team, Head coach Ty Lue didn’t mince words when he discussed Westbrook’s role, inserting him right into the starting lineup.

As LA looks to make a push for its first championship in franchise history, will Westbrook be the missing piece? The Sporting News takes a deeper dive into his first game in a new uniform.

MORE: Why Westbrook is a low-risk bet for Clippers’ 2023 title push

How did Russell Westbrook play in his Clippers debut?

Stat line: 17 PTS (7-13 FG, 1-4 3PT, 2-2 FT), 14 AST, 5 REB, 1 STL, 7 TO

The good

Westbrook joined Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Mason Plumlee in the starting lineup, sending Terance Mann — who did an awesome job as an interim point guard — back to the bench.

Westbrook wasted no time making an impact as a playmaker, dishing some simple dimes off of drives and pushing the tempo to find open shooters on the fast break.

The Clippers put the ball in Westbrook’s hands and let him initiate the offense, running a variety of pick-and-roll looks to allow the player who is 10th all-time in assists to make reads and create easy looks for his teammates.

They also briefly experimented with using him as a screener — something he was unwilling to do with the Lakers — looking to utilize Westbrook when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.

The Clippers benefitted from Westbrook’s passing presence right away, as he reached the 10-assist mark midway through the third quarter.

Late in the fourth quarter, Westbrook stepped up to extend the Clippers’ lead with under 20 seconds to play. He took rookie forward Keegan Murray off the dribble, finishing at the rim to put LA up three with 15.2 seconds remaining.

He also knocked down his only 3-pointer in a massive spot in overtime — his second clutch bucket of the night.

Westbrook ended up fouling out in double overtime as the Clippers fell to the Kings in the second-highest scoring game in NBA history, 176-175.

The bad

At this point, it’s no secret that Westbrook can’t shoot. According to NBA stats, he is shooting 31.9 percent on midrange jumpers and 29.6 percent on 3s this season.

The Kings defended him as a non-shooter, either sagging way off of Westbrook or sending his defender to double-team Leonard or George to create some spacing issues for the Clippers’ offense at times.

Luckily for LA, it didn’t matter much because it buried a franchise-record 26 3s at a 57.8 percent clip.

The potential spacing issue was known when the Clippers signed Westbrook but in his debut, we got a glimpse of what it looks like on a new team. However, in comparison to the Lakers, the Clippers have an entire roster of perimeter shooters who can make up for Westbrook’s lack of a threat from outside of the paint. His new team doesn’t need him to score with how many offensive weapons they have.

The spacing is something to monitor on nights when LA is playing a better defensive team than Sacramento (who ranks 22nd in the NBA).

Clippers upcoming schedule

Four of LA’s next five games of the season are on national TV.

Date Opponent Time Channel
Feb. 26 at Nuggets 10 p.m. ESPN
Feb. 28 vs. Timberwolves 10 p.m. TNT
March 2 at Warriors 10 p.m. TNT
March 3 at Kings 10 p.m.
March 5 vs. Grizzlies 10 p.m. ESPN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *