Clippers

Will Westbrook Help Lead New Clippers to Contention?

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had one main hole they have tried — and failed — to fill since acquiring Paul George and signing Kawhi Leonard.

No, it is not their constant struggle due to injuries and load management— it is the point-guard position.

Starting with the 2019-2020 season — the first year of the PG-Kawhi era — the Clippers have shuffled through point guards in Patrick Beverley, Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall and a few other lower-level names. Despite some of these players proving to be better fits than others, none made a lasting mark.

This year, the Clippers have experimented a bit more with their rotation. After Wall and Jackson produced okay-to-underwhelming results as the guards, the team deployed Terance Mann as the point guard and gave George some more responsibility when it comes to ball handling (an underrated part of his game for years).

In the last 18 games — all of which Mann started in — the Clippers embarked on a five-game win streak and now sit fourth in the West as we head into the final stretch of the regular season.

One could argue the Clippers are rolling right now and should go into the playoffs with the team they have.

Kawhi has looked great since the start of 2023, averaging 26.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game. PG was named an All-Star reserve, and most importantly, both have played most games, with Kawhi only missing four out of a possible 20 in this span. Without a true point guard, the Clippers seem to be thriving.

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Is there truly a need?

Regardless of a player’s natural position, the Clippers are missing some aspects that the right point guard would help solve.

In January, the Clips lost eight games. Out of those, Los Angeles lost the assist battle in seven. Moreover, the team ranks 25th in assists for the season, and 11th in three-pointers taken, despite being sixth in three-point percentage. While the lack of their two stars sharing the court in most games is a problem that contributes to this, the situation goes a bit deeper than that.

The Clippers have lacked one intangible element every team needs to win a championship— stability. This goes far past this season, as the same has been true every year of the current era. Whether it’s because of injuries or undefined rotations, you just never feel like you know what (or who) to expect when it comes to the Clippers.

Of all the positions that seem to change from game to game, the point guard is by far the clearest to see. All the names highlighted above prove this.

In the weeks approaching the trade deadline, the Clippers were linked with players like Kyrie Irving (per Law Murray of The Athletic), Mike Conley and D’Angelo Russell (per Marc Stein), and Fred VanVleet (per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer).

However, the team instead opted to trade for Denver’s Bones Hyland — not the absolute best example of the player they need — Houston’s Eric Gordon and big-man Mason Plumlee from the Charlotte Hornets.

Instead of trading for their answer at point guard, the Clippers doubled down in other places, so, what now?

Can Westbrook Answer The Call?

The Clippers had no better option than to turn to the buyout market to put the finishing touches on the rest of the season.

Russell Westbrook will be a captivating fit for the Clippers, to say the least. After trading John Wall, an experiment that The Lead’s Josh Douglas accurately described as “a failure”, the Clippers might be looking to recreate what Wall was supposed to give them.

On paper, Westbrook’s skillset would be a great addition to the team. A guard who can get to the basket and kick out to open shooters? Yes, please.

By now, however, the league must understand that with Russ, it never really is that easy. Maybe Coach Lue is the man who can get to the guard’s head and convince him to play the role the team needs from him, but the negative tendencies that plagued his time with the Lakers should inspire at least a bit of caution.

After Russ, things somehow get worse. The Clippers can hope for players who were traded during the deadline to hit free agency, but not all of these are likely to hit the market and those who are likely are not among the best.

Other Options Proved Less Ideal

Unfortunately for the Clippers, this year’s buyout market shows more promise in other places and positions.

Maybe the Clippers don’t even need a pure point guard to give them security. Maybe they thrive in the playoffs by deploying taller lineups with George taking over those duties, or they put the ball in Bones’ hands some more and he proves to be a better fit here than in Denver.

Of the other buyout candidates, not many of them made much sense, and most probably would not have played a big part in any potential run the team goes on, making their current rotation their most probable arsenal for the rest of the season.

About Jesús Feliciano-Batista

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