The Los Angeles Clippers enter the 2023-24 season shrouded in uncertainty stemming from the team's pursuit of James Harden. Point guard has been relentlessly cited as an area of need, even after Russell Westbrook's revelatory postseason performance.
Los Angeles was thought to be in the mix for Jrue Holiday. Harden is still available. A potential Plan B is Malcolm Brogdon, who is unlikely to spend the entire season in Portland. But, for now, the starting point guard in LA is Westbrook. He has the trust of his teammates. Paul George called him a top-25 player, still. But, does Westbrook have the trust of the front office?
Well... he's certainly aiming high. If Westbrook lives up to his self-professed goals for this season, it will be difficult for the front office to not embrace the former MVP as the team's true lead guard.
"I’m the only one who can set that table," said Westbrook. "Getting back to myself would be averaging 21/11/12… Ain’t too many people did that but myself and somebody else. And I’m the only one that did it four times."
Russell Westbrook aims to average triple-double for Clippers
There are a couple different reads of this statement from Westbrook. On one hand, it shows his unwavering self-confidence and desire to dominate. Los Angeles needed that in the postseason, especially once Kawhi Leonard went down with an injury. Even now, at 34 years old, Westbrook can take over a game with sheer athleticism and force of will.
On the other hand, this could read as poor self-awareness to the Westbrook skeptics of the world. He's definitely not a top-25 player right now, with all due respect to Paul George. And, frankly, Westbrook should be the third wheel at best for a healthy Clippers team. The halfcourt offense should primarily run through Leonard and George, even if Westbrook is initiating actions. If Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, it's not necessarily the best sign for LA as a whole. He's not the same player he was in 2018, or even 2020.
Last season, Westbrook averaged 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 7.6 assists on .489/.356/.658 splits in 21 regular season games with the Clippers (all starts). In the Clippers' first-round loss to Phoenix, those numbers jumped up to 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. That series also featured Westbrook's best defense in a while.
There is no denying Westbrook's ability to put up big numbers. It's more a question of whether or not he should have the offensive freedom to do so. The Clippers have more efficient offensive hubs and a Harden trade (or even a Brogdon trade) would demote Westbrook to the bench.
Los Angeles will — and should — lean into Westbrook's unique athleticism and constant rim pressure, but he should probably temper expectations, just as the Clippers should temper his role. Westbrook would be better off sacrificing a few points, rebounds, and assists to focus on defense and off-ball movement.