Russell Westbrook is reportedly welcome to a trade that would ship him out of Oklahoma City, where he’s played each of his 11 seasons, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. To the surprise of many, Twitter has thrown the San Antonio Spurs out as a potential landing target for Russ.
Russell Westbrook‘s rank amongst the NBA’s top players seems to go as high as 10 and as low as 30 in the minds of fans and the media.
Westbrook, who is a former MVP and has lead the league in assists and points twice, puts up numbers that would easily put him in the top 15 of the NBA’s elite. After all, ESPN ranked him seventh entering last season, one spot ahead of Kawhi Leonard and two ahead of Joel Embiid (that aged poorly).
San Antonio would be an odd destination for the the eight-time all-star considering their depth and youth at the guard position. Regardless, it’s worth evaluating what a potential Spurs-Thunder trade would look like.
In this article we’ll break down what Russell Westbrook’s contract looks like, how his game will age in his 30’s, and his potential fit in San Antonio’s backcourt under the direction of Gregg Popovich.
Next: The Money Aspect
Russell Westbrook’s Contract
In my opinion, Westbrook would still be worthy of a max if he was a free agent this offseason.
He averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists per contest last year, which is impressive in its own right, but it’s even more astonishing when you realize it is his third straight season averaging a triple-double. Like him or not, those are insane numbers.
However, no player comes without a concern. Some of Westbrook’s holes in his game include his shooting, his age (he turns 31 in November), his health, and his usage rate. But the biggest concern is his contract.
The numbers on his extension, which went into effect last season, hurt to look at.
Not only is he making an absurd amount of money per year, but it’s an amount that increases each season until finally culminating as a $46.6 million player option for the 2022-23 season. Paying a 35 year old guard that much money, especially one whose game is reliant on his athleticism, is less than ideal.
The Spurs have a few inflated contracts on their payroll including the deals for LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills. Packaging DeRozan and Mills for Westbrook passes the ESPN Trade Machine test, but the Thunder would undoubtedly reject the trade because of how highly they value the franchise’s all-time scoring leader.
The Thunder would undoubtedly demand one of San Antonio’s young guards in a potential deal.
FOX Sports Analyst Nick Wright tried to make a case for a Spurs-Thunder trade with the Spurs shipping DeRozan along with Lonnie Walker IV, who has shown lots of promise with his Summer League dominance, and Derrick White, who could realistically make an All-Defensive Team in the near future, in exchange for Westbrook and a first round pick.
The replies were not pretty, and it’s pretty safe to say that Spurs fans would not be pleased with that deal.
Next: Will His Game Age Well?
The Aging of Russell Westbrook’s Game
To be a superstar in the modern NBA, you must be a good shooter (unless you’re Giannis Antetokounmpo) and be able to create offense at an efficient clip. Aging stars with fading athleticism must be able to do this at a heightened level.
Westbrook has never been known for his shooting ability, but that has not stopped him from letting it fly.
Since the 2011-12 season, The Brodie has ranked in the top-five in total field goal attempts in a season six times. During those years, he has shot at least 45 percent from the field three times and has topped 32 percent from downtown only once. The shooting numbers could be worse, but the volume of his shots and his percentages are what hurt his overall efficiency.
It isn’t impossible that Westbrook’s game ages well. At the end of the day, he’s still an incredibly talented player.
People had concerns about Blake Griffin‘s game going into last season considering Griffin is only a year younger and has a history of knee injuries like Westbrook does. Griffin turned that doubt into his first All-Star campaign since the 2014-15 season and shot a career-high 36 percent from deep.
A majority of Westbrook’s playmaking ability, whether he’s acting as a facilitator or scorer, comes from his athleticism. He’s had multiple knee surgeries and he’s on the wrong side of 30.
He has only missed 20 games since the start of the 2014-15 season, but knee injuries tend to catch up to you as you get older. The Spurs have a good thing going with their youth movement, and trading for an aging point guard is simply not a move in the right direction.
Next: His fit in the Spurs Backcourt
Russell Westbrook’s fit in San Antonio
It is tough to know what the Spurs’ rotation would be if they traded for Westbrook because there’s such a wide variety of pieces that could be included in a potential deal.
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Between Walker, White and Dejounte Murray, I think the Spurs would most likely retain Murray or Walker. Walker would be the best fit next to Westbrook of those three, but I would also imagine the Thunder would prioritize acquiring Walker in a trade.
I have faith in Murray’s shooting improvements. He was poised to be a breakout player before tearing his ACL last preseason, and people around the league believe that could be the case again this year.
A Westbrook-Murray backcourt would be stout defensively (assuming Murray picks up where he left off pre-injury), but they would severely lack any type of outside shooting.
Murray shot 26 percent from deep during the 2017-18 season, albeit on less than half of an attempt per game.
Westbrook is a ball-dominant point guard, ranking in the top 10 in usage rate last season, and at this point in his career, Murray won’t be very effective playing off the ball. Playing Westbrook big minutes off-ball isn’t a recipe for success either as his catch-and-shoot three-point numbers are similar to Lonzo Ball‘s.
Simply put, the fit is not there.
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I think Russell Westbrook is a fantastic athlete and probably a top-15 player in this league.
However, his contract, injury history and playing style make him a poor fit in San Antonio. The Spurs have a great youth movement in their backcourt, and a Westbrook trade would torpedo that development.