In the LA Clippers’ nailbiter offensive showdown against the Golden State Warriors, Russell Westbrook was subbed off with more than seven minutes left of regulation; he never saw the court since.
The result? The Clippers extended their win streak to four with a promising finish to what felt like the team’s best game this year. In the game prior, Westbrook was sidelined for the entirety of the fourth quarter. And the result? The Clippers won.
Most clearly, Tyronn Lue isn’t afraid to bench the league’s controversy-filled floor general. And just as clear, it has been the best way to utilize the offensive weapon that Westbrook is.
Now, just because the former MVP isn’t on the floor in the final seconds doesn’t mean he isn’t contributing.
As the Clippers’ starting point guard, Westbrook logs 13.4 points and 7.4 assists in 29.2 minutes of play per game. More importantly, when he’s on the floor, the pressure is taken off Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to do it all.
An elite playmaker, Westbrook can bring up the ball and run plays — the way the team’s previous experiments in Rajon Rondo and John Wall were expected to do. Not to mention, the UCLA product’s energy and pace are palpable: the team plays with more speed and is less stagnant with the ball, a key to their recent prolific scoring nights. In turn, the team’s offensive rating improved from 114.2 to 119.3; likewise, the assist percentage jumped from 57 to 60.5 percent.
But as perceptible as his upside may be, Westbrook isn’t necessarily devoid of flaws. What stains his excellent chance creation and hustle are his three-point shooting and turnovers.
Through Russell Westbrook’s flaws, the coaching staff knows how to utilize him for the LA Clippers.
As it stands, the Russell Westbrook is shooting an abysmal 29.5 percent from long range (28.6 percent in an LA Clippers uniform) and is turning the ball over 3.5 times a game (sixth most in the NBA).
As a result, he, at times, can be a huge liability on the floor. Teams, much like how Draymond Green and the Warriors did, can give him space to shoot, thus clogging the paint and preventing potential passing lanes and easier looks near the rim. As for his tendency to turn the ball over, it can cost the Clippers the game — a careless slip of the ball from Westbrook’s hands saw the Sacramento Kings hand the LA team its fifth consecutive loss.
Now, this is why Tyronn Lue’s bold decision to pull Westbrook out in clutch moments works so well. By starting him and still giving him close to thirty minutes, Lue gives him a chance to do what he excels at: start the game with energy, hustle, and playmaking. And sidelining the turnover-prone veteran in crunch time minimizes the harm that he can cause to the team.
Instead, a better-shooting veteran in Eric Gordon or a young, energy-filled Terance Mann is used to secure the ball, lock down opposing guards and, if need be, knock down shots. Not to mention, the return of the team’s prolific sixth man Norman Powell could give the team an offensive boost in crunch time without the same risk of reckless plays and unnecessary turnovers.
So, despite all the noise surrounding the notorious floor general, it seems like Westbrook has found a way to contribute to winning across the hallway from the Los Angeles Lakers locker room. Perhaps an experienced head coach, a deep and elite three-point shooting team, and a fresh change of threads were what Westbrook needed all along.