During the 2023 NBA playoffs, Russell Westbrook proved plenty of people wrong as he led the Los Angeles Clippers to a semi-competitive first-round exit against the Phoenix Suns. Westbrook averaged 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists last year, which led many to believe that he could have plenty of gas left in the tank. His performances during the Clippers' 2024 first-round tussle against the Dallas Mavericks, however, have shown otherwise.

Westbrook has shot a ghastly 6-35 from the field since putting up a solid 13-4-4 night on 5-8 shooting in Game 1, actively harming the Clippers' offense in the process. But head coach Tyronn Lue attributed Westbrook's struggles to the Clippers' inability to get some stops, preventing them from playing at a much faster pace where Westbrook thrives.

“Us not being able to get stops and get out in transition and attack early in transition really hurt us. … We're not getting stops when he's on the floor then it's hard for him to be who he is,” Lue said in his postgame presser, per NBA reporter Mark Medina.

Tyronn Lue also made sure not to throw Russell Westbrook under the bus; the Clippers head coach lauded Westbrook for his good process at times, and he now looks forward to putting him in a much better position to succeed.

“He's been good, just keep attacking the basket, keep making the right play. I got to do a better job of getting him in better situations,” Lue added.

The Clippers' season isn't done yet, so it's not time for Tyronn Lue to lose the plot regarding Russell Westbrook. Westbrook may not be the player he once was, but he can still be an impact player in the right role. Can the Clippers give Westbrook a chance to get back on track with their backs against the wall?

Russell Westbrook thrives in pace and space

For all of Russell Westbrook's faults, he is still one of the most energetic guards in the NBA. His speed can be a nightmare to deal with in transition, as he tends to create easy buckets for his teammates due to the pressure he puts on the rim. Moreover, he is a net positive on the glass, as he crashes the offensive boards with reckless abandon and is a hunter, for better or for worse, of defensive rebounds.

Westbrook also thrives in space; he most notably carved up the Suns last year in the playoffs when he had four shooters flanking him on the court. Last year, a lineup of Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Terance Mann, Norman Powell, and Bones Hyland had a +40 net rating in the nine minutes they played.

Alas, this year, the Clippers may not have the personnel to maximize Westbrook. He usually shares the floor with another non-shooter, cramping the team's driving lanes. Moreover, Westbrook doesn't necessarily handle the basketball in these units. James Harden or Paul George usually do the offensive initiation, relegating Westbrook to corner-sitting duties, and he has struggled as a result.

Westbrook has tried to mitigate his struggles from deep by cutting towards the paint. There, at least two Mavericks defenders converge on him in the paint, making his opportunities difficult. On the short roll, he doesn't command respect as a scorer anymore, as the Mavericks either lie in wait for him at the rim to either block his shot or force a miss, taking away his best asset, his playmaking.

Perhaps he does better with Daniel Theis at the five instead of Mason Plumlee, as Theis could at least pose some sort of a threat from the perimeter. This could free up some space for Westbrook to thrive. The Mavericks aren't a team that gives the ball away often, so the Clippers should find other ways to, as Tyronn Lue said, get the former MVP in “better situations”.

How poorly has Westbrook played in the Clippers' past four games?

The shooting numbers have been dismal for Russell Westbrook. But the Clippers don't rely on him for scoring anyway. Sure, it would help if he were a threat to score (he currently isn't), but is he at least nailing his role player, glue guy duties to a T?

In Game 2, Westbrook certainly played well, and he should have stayed in the Clippers' closing lineup. He was making plays in transition for the Clippers in the fourth quarter of a close game, and he was impactful defensively, poking the ball away from Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving on multiple occasions. He was then benched, and the Clippers lost.

But from there, it has been downhill for Westbrook. Game 3 was a nightmare, as he couldn't control his emotions before he was ejected. In Game 4, he was nowhere to be found on offense, but he at least helped out on defense. But in Game 5, Westbrook may have played his worst game as a Clipper yet.

He was missing layups, clanking it off the glass as he ran through Maxi Kleber without much of a plan. And then on defense, Westbrook overplayed the ballhandler, gambling for steals when staying with his man was the far wiser decision.

Credit goes to the Mavericks for putting Maxi Kleber and sagging off of him, forcing him to make plays. Westbrook has to figure out how to put the ball in the basket to make Dallas pay for the way they're covering him.