Russell Westbrook is expected to join the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Clippers, according to The Athletic's Law Murray. Terance Mann, who had been the nominal starting point guard for the Clippers over the past month or so, is expected to rejoin the second unit according to Murray. Westbrook, who recently joined the Clippers after getting bought out by the Utah Jazz following a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers, is expected to make his debut for the team on Friday against the Sacramento Kings.
Westbrook had been a starter for most of his career, but after three ugly losses to begin this season, the Lakers moved him to the bench. Westbrook quickly became the betting favorite to win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game, but his fit with the Lakers slowly grew increasingly problematic. His shooting numbers plummeted towards the end of his Lakers tenure, and LeBron James was open about his desire for the Lakers to trade Westbrook and draft picks for Kyrie Irving.
Now Westbrook is seemingly returning to a starting lineup, and he'll have big shoes to fill. Mann may not be as accomplished as Westbrook, but the Clippers have been excellent since adding him to the starting five. When he, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac started games, the Clippers went 7-3. That five-man unit has played 142 minutes together this season, and the Clippers have won those minutes by 33 points.
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The advantage of starting Mann was that he provided much of the same athleticism and rim pressure that Westbrook does without compromising the team's defense or spacing. That is going to be a problem the Clippers now have to solve with Westbrook starting games. Assuming Zubac remains in the starting five, the Clippers will now be starting two non-shooters. That is a far cry from the five-out identity that has made this group special in its rare peaks.
The Clippers are betting that talent will win out with Westbrook. He is a former MVP joining a roster that makes more sense for him than the Lakers did. They seemingly needed to make substantial promises in order to convince him to join the team. Only time will tell if those promises were in the best interests of their championship pursuit.