It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers need a point guard. With the questioned future of impending free agent Dennis Schroder, there is a glaring hole in the position. It’s widely speculated that the Lakers are going to either move on from Schroder or use him in a sign-and-trade. If that is the case, two elite point guards are on the table in Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
Paul is coming off an unexpected trip to the NBA Finals, which was his first in his career. At 36 years old, Paul is still searching for that first championship ring. He has a player option and some believe that he could decline that option to explore all of his options.
Another player that is swirling around the rumor mill in Westbrook. Westbrook recently played for his third team in three seasons. After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, which was a hard-fought playoff berth after securing the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, some believe the 32-year old could be moved, so Washington can fully rebuild. After all, Westbrook’s stock is still high, despite a high salary, after averaging his fourth triple-double in a season.
Despite there being other options out there, the two best options are Paul and Westbrook given the state of the win-now Lakers. The question is which is the better option?
Who Is The Better Fit With LeBron?
LeBron needs someone who can take some of the offensive load off his shoulder. While Paul is known for his midrange game, Westbrook is more of a complete package when it comes to scoring. Westbrook can stuff a stat sheet because he is one of the best overall finishers at the rim. Westbrook is also a two-time NBA scoring champion, winning the title in 2015 (28.1 PPG), and 2017 (31.6 PPG). Paul hasn’t averaged over 20.0 points per game since the 2008-2009 campaign. That was also the same season as his career-high, which was 22.8.
With that said, LeBron’s game is known for its usage in the offense. LeBron hasn’t averaged a usage percentage less than 30% since 2005. Westbrook’s game involves him heavily being used in the offense. According to advanced stats, Westbrook has led the league in usage rate two times, topping off at a career-high of 41.7% in 2016-2017. Westbrook’s usage rate in his team’s offense has exceeded 30% each season since 2010-2011. From 2011-2018, six of those seasons translated to at least five or more offensive win shares.
Paul’s usage rate in an offense has never been higher than 27.5%. His career usage rate is 23.9%. While his usage rate is lower compared to Westbrook, his win shares and impact on a team are much higher, especially the last three seasons where Westbrook has a combined three offensive win shares. From a span of 2008-2015, Paul owns double-digit win shares five times. Given Paul’s usage rate was 15% less, we can blame some of Westbrook’s deficit on inflation and overuse, but that again is Westbrook’s game.
Westbrook led the league in assists last year, but his style of play mirrors LeBron's. When it comes to a good fit, you can’t have someone that is going to play the same style of play like you. You must find pieces that complement each other. Paul is much more of a facilitator in today’s game and we saw great things happen in the Suns’ offense. Westbrook still wants to be “the man” and that just won’t work in Los Angeles.
Who Is The Better Fit With Anthony Davis?
Westbrook’s game hasn’t changed in 10 years. Because of his athleticism, he is still able to put his head down and work in the lane. After a while, Father Time catches up to you and you have to change your game to a degree. In the last three years, that is exactly what Paul has done.
Even before Paul became more of a facilitator, he had a reputation for making big men successful. Davis may not be labeled as a center, but neither was Davis West back in Paul’s early years and that was when the power forward recorded his two lone All-Star seasons. Paul’s impact on Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Clint Capella is also well-documented as well.
Take a look at what Paul did with DeAndre Ayton last season. Ayton’s offensive win shares (5.3) were career-high, while his defensive win shares went from 1.6 to 3.1. Davis, a former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, would be the best overall defensive player Paul has ever played with. When the Lakers won the championship in 2020, they were a top-3 defensive team. Davis was at the center of that and Paul, a nine-time All-Defensive Team member, would bring great expertise to the team.
We should give some credit to Westbrook for his defense. For a player that has never earned an All-Defensive nod, he owns a career average of 1.7 steals. That is not too far off from Paul’s career average of 2.2 steals. With that said, Paul's overall defensive resume, which includes leading the league in steals six times, is so much better than Westbrook.
Who Is The Better Fit Right Now For The Lakers?
Paul’s leadership is unquestioned. Even Charles Barkley has called Paul the greatest leader in the NBA right now. What Paul did in OKC last year, leading a team that traded Westbrook and Paul George away to the playoffs, is amazing. Then, he led a young Suns team that hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade to the NBA Finals and was their best player on the biggest stage of them all. Paul might have come up short in the Finals, but his leadership can only go so far.
Having two locker room faces in LeBron and Paul, who are also very close friends off the court, is alone the reason that Paul is the better fit for the Lakers right now. When LeBron joined the Heat in 2010, he was able to transition fairly quickly because of the chemistry he had with Dwyane Wade. It wouldn’t be any different if Paul joined this team.
You can make a good argument that Westbrook is the better overall player given his youth and that he averaged a triple-double in his career for the fourth time where he is coming off a season that also saw him lead the league in assists for the third time in his career. However, when it comes to overall usage, his erratic play, and his likely inability to change his game to a facilitator, Westbrook would probably do more damage to the overall team’s play.
When Paul was the second or third best player on the Suns, the team was untouchable. When Paul scored 30 points that were just a bonus. The team thrived on his ability to protect the ball and set up teammates Devin Booker and Jae Crowder. The unfortunate truth is that both Booker and Ayton failed to deliver in the NBA Finals, while Paul was swarmed at times and turned the ball over.
LeBron and Davis need a point guard that is willing to make big-time plays but also be willing to be the third-best option. Paul is exactly that person and would fit the makeshift of this team in terms of playmaking and defense. LeBron and Paul would be the two best leaders in the locker room. Before game time, it might be the most focused locker room we have ever seen.