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Is Russell Westbrook the championship X-factor? Five questions Clippers must answer

Will Russell Westbrook do better with the Clippers than the Lakers?

(Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Westbrook could help in the ways the Clippers outlined. He is recovering at elite level. The Lakers’ offense 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 for 15 drives per game in just 28 minutes, and the Clippers are here firmly convinced that their collection of shooters around Westbrook will turn his drifts into open, made shots more often than with the Lakers. Just as the Clippers, who are ranked 24th in pace, saw John Wall as a one-man fast breakaway, they have the same expectations for Westbrook.

“I heard Ty say he’s going to get some easy ones just by being there,” said Plumlee, the backup center who has already shown he can push the pace with his exhaust fit.

But the X-Factor is whether Westbrook can shoot consistently to keep the defense apart when lanes are cut and, in turn, reduce how much defensive traffic superstar teammates Paul George and Leonard have to navigate to reach their favorite spots on the floor. Of the 130 guards who have averaged at least 20 minutes this season, Westbrook’s 46.6% effective field goal percentage—a measure of shooting efficiency that makes a three-pointer more valuable than a two-point shot—ranks 118th. He 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 other team. In one game against the Lakers this season, they guarded Westbrook with a center. Since joining them, the Clippers have shown Westbrook where he needs to be to optimize his match 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’re in the flow of the attack and it’s swing (pass), swing, swing and it’s an open shot, take it,” said Lue. “It’s just the early shots in the shot clock where we didn’t work the ball, worked the offense (which the Clippers want to limit). We’ve created several situations where we can move Russ around and make sure we get him in the right place to be effective.