Washington Wizards: Why the Wizards Won the John Wall-Russell Westbrook Trade

The Washington Wizards just lost one of the best players in franchise history. They still won the trade by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

The John Wall era is officially over in Washington, D.C. After trying to downplay trade rumors, the Washington Wizards traded Wall, who has been the face of the franchise for the past decade, and a future first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook.

At first, this may seem like an L for the Wizards. They’re getting older. Westbrook is 32 years old while Wall is just 30. They’re not getting any financial leverage. Both Westbrook and Wall are owed $132 million over the next three seasons. And they certainly aren’t helping build for the future by trading away a first-round pick.

But hold on. Yes, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick, but it’s a 2023 pick at the earliest, with protections that will help the Wizards if somehow everything collapses.  The pick they traded is lottery-protected in 2023, with top-12, top-ten, and top-eight protections for each of the three following drafts. If the Wizards really need that pick, they’ll have it! The future that GM Tommy Sheppard has repeatedly said he does not want to mortgage is still intact. All in all, the Wizards gave up next to no assets when just two weeks ago it was rumored that they would need to unload major assets to move Wall.

The Washington Wizards won the John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade.

So onto the actual players involved. John Wall for Russell Westbrook. Two incredibly athletic and explosive guards who have both struggled throughout their careers the further they get from the basket. While they have their differences, Wall is more of a distributor while Westbrook is more ball-dominant and the epitome of a modern-day scoring guard, Wall and Westbrook are about as close to an even swap as you can get. But maybe they’re not so even after all.

John Wall may be the greatest player ever to put on a Wizards jersey, but his resume pales compared to Westbrook’s. Westbrook has nine All-Star appearances; Wall has five. Westbrook has been named to nine All-NBA teams; Wall has made just one. Westbrook is a two-time scoring and two-time assist champ; Wall never led the league in either of those stats. Westbrook has an MVP award; Wall does not. However, Wall has made an All-Defensive team, which is something Westbrook has never done, and the Wizards need all the defensive help they can get. Objectively, though, Westbrook’s been better throughout his career than Wall has been.

But the biggest resume difference is this. Westbrook played in 130 of 154 games over the past two seasons. Wall, on the other hand, played in just 32 of 154 games the past two seasons. Now, Westbrook isn’t the same player he was when he won the MVP award or scoring titles. However, even in an “off” season with the Rockets, Westbrook’s numbers would have been a career year for most: 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game.

By Westbrook’s lofty standards, he didn’t exactly thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s unique offense at the beginning of last season, but he looked much better as the season progressed. From January 1, 2020, until the season was suspended in March, Westbrook averaged 31.7 points, 6.8 assists, and 8.1 rebounds, while shooting 52.7 percent from the field. By season’s end, he was third-team All-NBA. Now, he’s back with an old friend in coach Scott Brooks. The two were together for seven seasons in Oklahoma City. Brooks may be able to get even more out of Westbrook than D’Antoni did.

The best ability is availability and Westbrook has been much more available than Wall has been the past two seasons. He carries a lot less risk than Wall entering the 2020-21 season simply because we’ve seen him play more recently. That is crucial if the Wizards want to win.

If the Wizards’ ultimate goal is to get back to the playoffs, Westbrook is a step towards that goal. He may only raise the Wizards’ ceiling marginally, but he certainly raises the floor. In a condensed season, Westbrook will not have to get readjusted to NBA speed or be on a special rest schedule as was the plan with John Wall. He can — as he has done his entire career — hit the ground running with unmatched fire and unending intensity.

Westbrook may not be able to replace Wall in the hearts of Wizards fans, but Westbrook can replace Wall on the court and in the locker room, and the Wizards didn’t need to give up too much to get him to D.C. This trade might be tough to swallow for many Wizards fans, but the Wizards won this one.

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