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
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
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
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
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
NAH, WE'RE GOOD — PLAYOFFS/IN EDITION (13)
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.
NAH, WE'RE GOOD — DEVELOPMENT EDITION (5)
Teams: Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Orlando, San
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.
CAN'T SAY I SEE IT (4)
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.
HEAR ME OUT, THOUGH (2)
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
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.
THE FAVORITES (3)
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
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
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
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.