Why Russell Westbrook earned his raucous Clippers reception in a losing game

Russell Westbrook stepped out on Saturday to oohs, aahs and applause from an LA Clippers crowd excited about his debut for the team.

Fifty-six minutes of play later, he was eliminated in the second overtime with just as much celebration.

In the second-highest scoring game in NBA history, Westbrook, who was fouled after 39 minutes of play, had 17 points, 14 assists and five rebounds on a nearly 54 percent shooting as the Clippers lost 176 to the Sacramento Kings. 175 in double overtime. In addition to the historical relevance of the game, Westbrook’s first game as Clipper gave us a first taste of what’s to come for the other Los Angeles team.

Just over 19,000 flocked to Crypto.com Arena to catch Westbrook’s debut, but were treated to a high-octane ballgame that garnered a scoring level not seen in the league in over 40 years. It was a show of fitness with the team for Westbrook, hitting the gas as usual, navigating to open shots and punishing defense with his Paint Force to ease some of the pressure on stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. He made timely baskets – a left-handed layup with 15 ticks left on rule and a corner three at the 3:32 mark of first overtime – that exemplified this.

Westbrook was also seen flashing for off-ball opportunities and even — a move he’s rarely made in his entire career — for a short throw that led to an open corner three in the first quarter of the game. His spurts with center Mason Plumlee, particularly on empty-side pick-and-rolls, have also been a major takeaway as he tries to measure with his new team heading into the postseason.

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Among those 14 Westbrook assists, he dished out eight that led straight to a three-point match, his best in a game in over two years, according to ESPN stats. That display of playmaking may have quenched the Clippers’ thirst for a supporting guard on their roster this season. When Reggie Jackson and John Wall – who both shared minutes at the point guard position – were shipped off at the close of trade, Westbrook found himself in a situation where his playmaking services and all that was left of his one-time MVP tank were in urgent need are needed.

With a 33-28 record ahead of Westbrook, the Clippers ranked 21st on offense, largely due to an isolation-heavy approach on that end (they ranked 18th on assist percentage) and a lack of rim pressure (ranked 20th at drives per game). These facets could have significant bumps with Westbrook on the floor.

Westbrook averages 7.5 assists per game, which is just outside the league’s top ten; 12.9 potential assists, ie a pass resulting in a shot, foul or turnover; and 18.5 created assist points, which is points created by a player or team through their assists according to NBA stats. Those metrics above put Westbrook on par with effective playmakers like Mike Conley, Draymond Green, Domantas Sabonis, and even former teammate LeBron James.

With his playing skills, Westbrook should enjoy the Clippers’ marksmanship. Los Angeles ranks 11th in three-point accuracy at 36 percent. The Clippers also added Eric Gordon, who is shooting 35 percent from deep in deadline this season. Compare that to the Lakers, who rank 27th in that division (31.3 percent out of three) — the Clippers will be feasting on Westbrook-generated looks from now on.

Westbrook is also averaging 15.1 drives per game, according to NBA stats, which ranks 12th. That average nearly doubles Wall’s 8.1 drives and Jackson’s 6.7. However, that only resulted in points for Westbrook 43 percent of the time, as he converted just 58 percent of his shots on the rim this season — a below-average mark for such volume. Either way, the Clippers are banking on his sheer rim pressure, which will force the defense to loosen up against their marksmen and superstars George and Leonard.

The Clippers built 2019 around George and Leonard. Westbrook’s arrival at LAC’s deep marks the addition of a star searching for his redemption. Averaging 17.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, Westbrook gives the Clippers another weapon offensively, albeit with fairly wobbly efficiency — 47 percent on twos and 29 percent on threes. Westbrook is also averaging a staggering .99 points per possession, which sits at the 13th percentile this season.

On Saturday, Westbrook shot 13 times and scored seven of them, including the aforementioned third corner in overtime that drew a frenzied reaction from the crowd. He also had a team high of seven turnovers and often conceded easy chances on drives. But Westbrook’s first game in a Clippers uniform still warrants a welcome as hot as he does.

All Westbrook fans and the Clippers nation can now hope that the highlights and strengths outweigh the lowlights and bad.

https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/02/28/why-russell-westbrook-deserved-his-raucous-clippers-reception-in-a-losing-game/ Why Russell Westbrook earned his raucous Clippers reception in a losing game


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