Exploring potential landing spots for Russell Westbrook after buyout

Exploring potential landing spots for Russell Westbrook after buyout

Russell Westbrook may be on the move, again.

Following Westbrook's inclusion in a three-team deal between the Lakers, Timberwolves and Jazz, Westbrook and the Jazz are expected to reach agreement on a buyout.

While the trade value for Westbrook was on the lower side — his limitations, in addition to a gargantuan salary ($47 million) made trading for him a tough sell without pick compensation attached to him — Westbrook's market on the buyout market should be more robust.

He isn't the superstar he once was, operating in a primary bench role for the first time in his career. Westbrook remains a productive player, though: 15.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.0 steals are marks matched by three other players in the NBA this season — Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and James Harden.

More specifically, Westbrook still lives at the rim.

A whopping 44% of his shots come at the rim, a 94th-percentile mark among combo guards, per Cleaning The Glass. He ranks eighth in total drives (792), with the Lakers generating roughly 1.04 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring a Westbrook drive, per Second Spectrum.

The Lakers have played at the second-highest pace in the league this year. They've gotten in transition more often with Westbrook on the floor, a trend that has held in literally every season of Westbrook's career.

His ability to generate paint touches, with or without a screen, is still valuable to offenses. Once there, Westbrook has proven able to spray the ball out to the perimeter, or drop slick interior feeds. He's one of four players averaging at least 12 potential assists per game while averaging 50 or fewer passes. To the interior feed point, Westbrook ranks third in the league in at-rim assists.

That he's been able to do it with this volume, within a Laker offense that doesn't feature ideal spacing for drivers, should spark intrigue around what he could do in a better context. 

While Westbrook has generated paint touches at a high level, his efficiency as a scorer has declined from peak form. For the second season in a row, he's converted just 58% of his shots in the rim. He's made a career-low 29% of his shots from floater range. Some of that is due to the roster construction during his Laker tenure, but the interior touch has been shaky independent of that.

There's also the matter of the jumper. His 32% clip from mid-range ties a career-low (2018-19), while he's drained a paltry 29% of his threes. A year after knocking down 44% of his threes from the corner (on admittedly low volume), he's down to 27% this year. 

Teams aggressively gap him when he's off the ball. He can make hay as a cutter from the wing, but that isn't something you can build the boat around. Slotting him in the dunker spot, or using him as a screener, have seemingly been brought up as ideas more than we've seen it in practice. That could change in a new spot, but I'd temper expectations there. 

So, which teams make sense for Westbrook? Let's go down the list.


Teams: Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Golden State, Indiana, Memphis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento

This is pretty straightforward. All of these teams either have a star-caliber point guard, a deep point guard room or both.


Teams: Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Orlando, San Antonio

This is also straightforward. These teams are young and have more incentive to give their guards a runway rather than bringing Westbrook into the fold.


Teams: Brooklyn, Minnesota, Toronto, Washington

The Nets didn't seem super interested in Westbrook before Kyrie Irving was ultimately moved; the picks were the real assets, and there were rumblings of Westbrook being rerouted in such a deal. In light of Durant being moved, I really don't see the point now.

The Wolves just made their own point-guard swap, bringing the veteran Mike Conley into the fold. You could make the argument for Westbrook bolstering their second unit, running ball screens with Naz Reid — or Karl Anthony-Towns, when he's back and if they're staggered together. Ultimately, trying to sort through touches with Westbrook and Rudy Gobert and Edwards and Towns is probably too much.

The Raptors with an actual point guard who could consistently generate paint touches and feed their talented forwards — all of which offer intrigue as screeners — would be nice. But I don't think Westbrook should be that option in light of the spacing issues the Raptors already face. 

We've frankly done the Westbrook-in-Washington thing. He'd be an upgrade over the current point guards there, but I don't think that would be worth exploring.


Teams: Milwaukee, Phoenix

This may be an unpopular opinion, but the Bucks could probably use another shot creator. Among perimeter players, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are kinda it.

Jevon Carter has taken a step as a pull-up shooter — did you know he's draining nearly 37% of his pull-up threes this year? — but he's not someone that can carry a unit. Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton — whichever is replaced by Middleton when he returns to the starting lineup — are complementary pieces, not players who can handle significant on-ball usage.

All I'm saying is a second unit headlined by Westbrook and Sixth-Man-of-the-Year candidate* Bobby Portis (when he returns) could be good stuff. Joe Ingles could help balance things out with his blend of playmaking and shooting. Being able to have two of Holiday, Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Westbrook on the floor at all times would be quite the luxury. 

If the Suns were interested in Irving — and were possibly, maybe, allegedly, reportedly willing to involve Chris Paul in a deal to get it done — it stands to reason that they'd be in the market for more shot creation.

At the very least, the Suns need to pressure the rim more than they do.

Shout out to their increased work on the offensive glass — fifth in offensive rebound rate after ranking 21st last season — as well as the on-ball aggression they got from Mikal Bridges before moving him in a deal for some Kevin Durant dude.

They still rank 25th in drives per 100 possessions, 27th in free throw rate and 29th in rim rate (percentage of field goal attempts coming at the rim). 

Westbrook could help in all of those areas.


Teams: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami

Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes has reported that the Bulls and Clippers are expected to show interest in Westbrook, provided he's bought out.

I'll start here: without the Haynes report, I'd probably have Chicago in the "can't-see-it" section. I still want to put them there, but it's telling that we heard about their interest so early.

I get why there would be interest. Much like Phoenix, the Bulls have a mid-range heavy shot profile while ranking toward the bottom of the league in drives. Adding Westbrook to the fold could help that, while also taking some of the creation burden off of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

Nikola Vucevic could be a versatile screening partner for Westbrook, or someone that could space the floor while giving him room to work. If the pick-and-roll partnership between Westbrook and Thomas Bryant can be fruitful — 1.06 PPP on direct plays, per Second Spectrum, a quality number — then surely he and Vucevic could make music together. 

And ultimately, the Bulls' offense has underwhelmed this year. They're in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating; their 114.5 offensive rating with DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic on the floor would only rank 15th league-wide. Constantly being flanked with a passive guard — either the budding Ayo Dosunmu or the versatile Alex Caruso — puts a bit of a cap on the offensive ceiling of this group.

I'm not convinced Westbrook would be a great answer in practice, but I understand the logic behind how he could be. 

The Clippers seem to be the natural fit for Westbrook for a multitude of reasons. They could also use his rim pressure, and could especially use the juice he provides in transition. There are enough shooters on the roster, including their two best players, to create a favorable context for Westbrook. On a personal note, it'd be pretty convenient for Westbrook, who wouldn't have to move at all. 

If there's such a thing as a darkhorse favorite, the Heat would be it. They're the worst offense of this group of teams — 25th in offensive rating (112.2) when removing garbage time. Both on and off the floor, the Heat feel like a team that could use an outside jolt.

The biggest drawback to the fit is the spacing. Erik Spoelstra is one of the most creative minds in NBA history, but constructing a workable offense around Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would be quite the challenge. 

A challenge doesn't mean it'd be impossible.

We've seen Westbrook and Anthony Davis generate good looks on low pick-and-rolls; it's not hard to envision Westbrook and Adebayo doing the same. Westbrook could receive screens from, or be the screener for, Butler. In a vacuum, Westbrook's paint-heavy style could complement the pull-up chops of Tyler Herro in the backcourt.

All the Heat may need is a slight boost; even with their offense and the injuries they've had to sort through, they're a playoff team right now while playing in a league-leading 38 clutch games. Westbrook doesn't have to be a superstar; he simply needs to be an additive. There's enough in the tank to talk yourself into it.

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