Since moving Russell Westbrook to the bench, the Los Angeles Clippers have increased their overall production as a team.
Through their first five games with James Harden, the Los Angeles Clippers went 0-5 and this organization with high championship aspirations suddenly appeared to be in big trouble. Over their last two games, the Clippers are 2-0 and suddenly look like a new, re-energized team.
So what actually changed with the Clippers and has resulted in their small win streak? The answer is simple: Los Angeles finally realized that four star players who all need the ball in their hands to be successful cannot play alongside one another.
As a result, head coach Tyronn Lue has moved Russell Westbrook to the bench, elevating Terance Mann into the team’s starting rotation alongside James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Ivica Zubac. Westbrook, who came off the bench last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, now finds himself in a favorable position to take advantage of weaker, smaller defenders in other team’s secondary rotations.
Impact of Clippers’ lineup changes
What’s interesting with the Clippers’ lineup change is that while Russell Westbrook’s overall production has declined over the last two games, the team has a whole has increased their defensive productivity, holding the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs to 100 and 99 total points, respectively.
The Rockets and Spurs may rank amongst the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency, but it’s clear to see that the Clippers have made improvements since making their lineup changes. Over these last two games against Houston and San Antonio, the Clippers have stuck with a nine-man rotation consisting of their five starters, Westbrook, Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker, and newly added big man Daniel Theis.
According to the LA Times, the new starting lineup has outscored opponents by 38 points in 30 total minutes together on the floor. The four-man bench unit, plus Paul George, has also found success, recording a plus/minus of plus-15 in 17 minutes together.
For Westbrook, coming to the Clippers last season, and remaining with them this year, offered him a fresh start and the opportunity to still play at a high level alongside Kawhi and George in order to competing for a championship. While he would obviously like to be in the starting lineup, Russ understands the opportunity Los Angeles has in front of them with the addition of Harden. This is why he is willing to embrace a new role in order to win games.
“Just going out and doing whatever’s best for our team to be able to win games,” Westbrook briefly said regarding how he feels about his role after the team’s 124-99 victory over the Spurs on Monday night. “And that’s it.”
With Westbrook coming off the bench, James Harden has increased his production for his new squad as well. Through his first five games in a Clippers uniform, the former league MVP had just 22 assists and was struggling to find his role off the ball alongside the team’s other three stars. Over the last two games, Harden has recorded 17 total assists and appears to be more comfortable as the team’s primary ball-handler and facilitator.
The argument of who should and should not start for the Clippers can be had over and over again, especially when you take into account that Harden is the new guy on the block compared to Westbrook. However, winning is the only thing that matters to this organization and Westbrook coming off the bench gives them the best chance to find long-term success.
“It’s an adjustment period for him,” Lue stated of Russell Westbrook recently, via the LA Times. “Being a starter with PG and Kawhi, it’s a little different, but he’s come along great, and it’s good.”
As the season progresses, Lue and the Clippers will likely need to expand their rotations due to injuries and the nine-man rotation needing rest. Then again, as long as Kawhi, George, and others are healthy, this is the lineup the Clippers are going to push forward with.
What to expect from Clippers moving forward
While it’s great that the Clippers have found success with the changes to their starting lineup and rotations, we really can’t say that all of their problems are solved. Los Angeles defeated the Rockets and Spurs over their last two matchups.
There are no easy games in the NBA, but these are certainly two manageable opponents compared to going up against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, two teams that find themselves at the top of the NBA world in the West. More of a sample size is needed before conclusions can be made about the changes the Clippers have made.
Overall, the team and their fans are definitely pleased with how James Harden has looked with Terance Mann by his side instead of Russell Westbrook. Harden can initiate the offense for Kawhi and George, while Westbrook can do his thing and use his athleticism to his advantage against other team’s bench units who never go up against an All-Star player like Russ.
The Clippers needed to win these last two games given the recent losing skid they were on.
The Rockets and Spurs are not two teams that will stand in their way of competing for a title, which is why losing to either team would have made the cause for concern in Los Angeles even greater. By handling business and instilling confidence in the changes they’ve made, the Clippers can shift their focus to the next portion of their schedule, one that includes several playoff contending teams in the West.