Westbrook could help in the ways the Clippers have outlined. He rebounds at an elite level. The offense generated by the Lakers when he acted as the pick-and-roll ballhandler was below league average, according to Synergy, but it didn’t change the fact that he was in the paint 15 drives per game in only 28 minutes, and the Clippers staunchly believe their collection of shooters around Westbrook will turn his drives into open, made shots more often than with the Lakers. Just as the Clippers, who rank 24th in pace, saw John Wall as a one-man fast break, they have the same expectations for Westbrook.
“I heard Ty say he’ll get some easy ones just being out there,” said Plumlee, the backup center who has already shown he can push the pace with his outlet passing.
Yet the X-factor is whether Westbrook can shoot consistently to space out defenses when driving lanes are cut off and, in turn, reduce how much defensive traffic superstar teammates Paul George and Leonard must navigate to get to their preferred spots on the floor. Of the 130 guards who have averaged at least 20 minutes this season, Westbrook’s 46.6% effective field goal rate — a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for a three-pointer being more valuable than a two-point shot — ranks 118th. He has made 32% of his shots this season on opportunities deemed wide open, with the closest defender at least six feet away.
The Clippers know this as well as any team. In one matchup against the Lakers this season, they guarded Westbrook with a center. Since he joined their side, the Clippers have shown Westbrook where to be to optimize his fit with Leonard and George. Will that job description include setting screens for either in the kind of pick-and-rolls between guards and wings that Lue preaches?
“If you are in the flow of the offense and it’s swing [pass], swing, swing and it’s open shot, then take it,” Lue said. “It’s just the early shots in the shot clock where we haven’t worked the ball, worked the offense [that the Clippers want to limit]. We’ve put in different situations where we can move Russ around and make sure we get him in the right spot to be effective.”