Should the Los Angeles Clippers combine James Harden and Russell Westbrook?

The Los Angeles Clippers promise to be a team worth watching for the remainder of the 2023/24 NBA season. After many unsuccessful negotiations, they brought back superstar James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers with a favorable exchange rate, while still retaining the core of Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the squad.

Russell Westbrook | LA Clippers | NBA.com

However, the Clippers’ biggest problem at the present time is combining all four of the above stars into a complete playing system. In particular, the main ball-holding role between James Harden and Russell Westbrook must be clearly divided.

James Harden | LA Clippers | NBA.com

This duo had a quite successful time playing together for the Houston Rockets in the 2019/20 season, or even further together at the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2010 to 2012. However, times have changed. change. Harden is currently 34 years old, while Westbrook will also turn 35 in the next few months. Not to mention, they are not the main offensive spearheads when that role has always been assumed by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers for many years.

Not only that, these are all players who can only maximize their abilities when they have the ball in their hands, especially with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. In this article, The Sporting News experts will show the pros and cons of having both of these players on the field.

Kawhi Leonard credits WNBA players for inspiring his latest move | Marca

For James Harden, the player profile clearly states that he plays in the SG position (point defender). However, Harden has regularly assumed the role of PG (ball-leading defender) since moving to the Houston Rockets in 2012. He even stepped back to the main playmaking role in two periods playing for Brooklyn. Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook has always been one of the top PGs in the NBA during his peak years. Theoretically, there will be advantages and disadvantages to combining both players who share this position on the field.

James Harden

Advantage

In fact, even though they are PG, the playing styles of Harden and Westbrook are very different. To be able to combine these two players on the court, using Russell Westbrook for the primary ball-handling role and returning James Harden to a pure scoring position would be the best scenario.

First, Russell Westbrook is a very bad player if he has to play without the ball. This was proven during his time playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, playing alongside the main ball handler, LeBron James.

Professional statistics also reflect this reality. In the 2022/23 season, Russell Westbrook only had 23/69 successful 3-point shots when placed in the role of receiving the ball and then throwing. This is a fairly low rate, leading to opponents often not following Westbrook closely and focusing on defending more dangerous players like Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.

Meanwhile, James Harden showed that his ability to play without the ball has not disappeared. Last season, James Harden converted 41.5% of his 3-pointers when in the 3-point receiving role. Despite only averaging 1.8 such shots per game while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, Harden’s high conversion rate will force opponents to pay more attention when defending.

Paul George. Nike VN

Therefore, the Clippers can optimize the use of both on the field by placing Russell Westbrook in the main ball-handling role and James Harden taking on the finishing duties. Both can also change roles in holding the ball, depending on the actual situation of the match. Fans have also witnessed this, when both played for the Houston Rockets in the 2019/20 season.

Defect

However, combining Russell Westbrook and James Harden is only relatively correct in theory. Placing James Harden back in a pure scoring role is not a bad choice, but the 34-year-old only maximizes his ability when he has the ball in his hands. Having to play alongside Russell Westbrook may unintentionally reduce Harden’s ability to play.

Russell Westbrook LA Clippers

(NBA Entertainment)

Not only that, the Los Angeles Clippers are not like the Houston Rockets of 4 years ago. At the Rockets, both Harden and Westbrook are the biggest stars, have the ball the most and are supported by an entire system. At the Clippers, this role has always been reserved for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for many years.

Not to mention, both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are players who need the ball to optimize each person’s abilities. According to NBA Stats, Paul George had a ball control rate of up to 29.4%, while Kawhi Leonard had 26.7% last season.

Ball possession percentage of Clippers players (current) in NBA 2022/23
Player Ratio (%)
Paul George 29.4
Kawhi Leonard 26.7
James Harden 24.7
Russell Westbrook (w/ LAC) 24.2

This will greatly affect James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Both also have a huge possession rate in the 2022/23 season, 24.7% (James Harden) and 24.2% (Russell Westbrook), respectively. By not being the top stars at the Clippers, both Harden and Westbrook will not be able to become the center of the team like what happened in the past.

With all four players standing on the field together, not including another player, the ball control rate of all four will have to be adjusted. In the worst case, using these 4 names can unintentionally reduce the ability of everyone to compete.

In the first match that these four players debuted together, the Los Angles Clippers suffered a defeat with a score of 97-111 against the New York Knicks. Both James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all played below their strength, as well as showing a rather sporadic connection throughout the match.

After all, this is just the first match and the Clippers have 5 more months to put it all together into a complete system, before the Playoff matches begin.

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