Westbrook, Russell, or Irving: Who provides the best value?

Published November 3, 2023, 3:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

NBA.com Philippines writer Polo Bustamante looks at three starting point guards to find out which player is a bargain at his current salary.

One of my favorite YouTube series is Worth It. The premise of the show is simple: the hosts try out one dish at a low, mid, and high price point. They then determine which one is the best, given its price.

With all the money flying around in the NBA this past offseason, there are similar types of players who have different price tags. That’s why…

…for this edition of NBA Worth It, we take a look at three starting point guards for playoff hopefuls each at three drastically different price points to find out which one is a bargain at their price.

Russell Westbrook, LA Clippers

2023-2024 Salary: $3.8 million

In the series, the lowest-priced item is usually one made by a mom-and-pop shop using the simplest ingredients. Russell Westbrook is the opposite of that. He’s a complex, polarizing brand name player who comes at a discount.

Russ is quietly having one of the best seasons he’s had in the past few years. He’s averaging only 15.2 points per game while grabbing nearly eight boards and dishing out seven assists per game. Those are typical numbers for him. What’s been impressive though is his efficiency and usage. Westbrook is shooting at a 51.6 percent clip, a career-high number so far. His usage is also down to just 21.2 percent from using more than a quarter of the team’s possessions last season.

What those numbers show is that Westbrook looks like he’s accepted a lesser role after fighting that transition in the past few seasons. Russ has allowed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to lead without getting in their way, and because of that, the Clippers are statistically one of the best teams in the league (2nd in net rating) today.

It will be interesting to see how adding another ball-dominant playmaker like James Harden will affect Westbrook’s current role. What’s more interesting is how an even more reduced role will affect Westbrook’s mindset. Will he continue to take a step back or will there be some pushback from him?

D’Angelo Russell, LA Lakers

2023-2024 Salary: $17.3 million

D’Angelo Russell is the perfect example of a mid-option. There’s a lot to like about him as a player but he also takes a lot of things off the table.

He fits so well on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the way. He can play as the team’s primary creator in lineups without James and has shown he can set up Davis really well. He’s also a solid shooter and off-ball cutter, a great target whenever James takes on the floor general role. This season, Russell is averaging 19 points on 47.3 percent shooting, as well as seven assists with only 2.4 turnovers. He started off slow but has slowly found his footing, putting up a 28-8 and a 27-6 line in the last two Laker wins.

As good as he’s been this season, there are still some things that he needs to address. Russell is one of the most frustratingly inconsistent players in the league. It won’t be surprising to see him go through a bad stretch after this hot streak. He also needs to show that he can make a difference on defense. That’s been one of the biggest issues of his game, earning him a reputation as a one-way player. These issues hurt Russell even more in the playoffs when consistency and defense matter more.

Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks

2023-2024 Salary: $37 million

The highest-priced items in Worth It are usually the ones loaded with fixins’. They’re the burgers that have foie gras and gold leaf or the pizzas with ungodly amounts of truffle shaved on them. That also sums up the Kyrie Irving experience in the past few years.

Fundamentally, Irving has all the makings of a superstar. He’s an electric ball handler who can make defenders look silly while trying to evade them. Once he gets free, he’s one of the most dynamic finishers in the game. All he needs is a sliver of space and he will find the optimal angle to get a shot off. Irving can also run the offense as easily as he can play off the ball. All these skills come in handy, especially in the clutch where he can take over games with his fluidity and offensive versatility.

Layered on top of all that is baggage from his past that he can’t seem to escape. Irving has – fairly or unfairly – been tagged as a team killer. Every team he’s been on has been better off without him. It’s as if he brings a dark cloud that looms heavy everywhere he goes.

Then, there’s also the question of fit. The Dallas Mavericks already have a ball-dominant lead guard in Luka Doncic. Both Irving and Doncic are at their best with the ball in their hands. This has resulted in both of them alternating on offense. So far this season, Irving has taken a back seat to Doncic, putting up a 19-6-5 line. What’s worse is that he’s been limited to just two games due to a foot injury. For better or worse, the Mavs have yet to feel the full Irving experience.

Who’s the most worth it?

This is a toss-up between Westbrook and Russell.

Don’t let the memes fool you. Westbrook has been a different beast this season. He’s clearly lost a step in terms of athleticism but he always makes up for it with energy and effort. As for Russell, it seems like he’s finally getting comfortable playing as the third option behind James and Davis. That might actually be the best role for a player like him.

The real test of Westbrook’s value will be when the Clippers fully integrate Harden. If Westbrook doesn’t hurt the team, then he looks like a steal at his current contract. But that’s a lot of questions that need to be answered. Russell is on the rise, and as long as he can continue his upward trajectory, then a borderline All-Star at less than $20 million is a great signing.