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Larry Hughes offers a player’s perspective on the Wizards’ trade for Russell Westbrook

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Media members have speculated on Westbrook’s potential impact. But as someone who defended Westbrook, Hughes is uniquely suited to talk about what he could bring to the Wizards.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Washington Wizards
Russell Westbrook guarding John Wall
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

By now, every major basketball outlet has published thoughts on the Wizards trading John Wall and a protected first-round pick to Houston for Russell Westbrook. Entire writing staffs have weighed in on what they think about the addition of Westbrook and how the front office handled the trade of Wall.

With the exception of former Wizard Jason Smith, who now covers the team for NBC Sports Washington, I’ve seen few former players offer analysis (at least none that closely follow the Wizards). To provide that, I consulted my co-host Larry Hughes on the latest episode of the Bleav in Wizards podcast.

As someone who knows all of the parties involved and has actually defended both Wall and Westbrook, Hughes offered a level of insight that few can provide.

We discussed all aspects of the trade during the episode but I’ve highlighted a few comments about Westbrook.

If you’d like to hear more about the role Bradley Beal likely played in the trade, a seemingly inevitable contract extension for Scott Brooks, and Deni Avdija’s defensive potential then I would encourage you to check out the entire episode. Hughes also gave a behind-the-scenes breakdown of how NBA teams put together their scouting reports.

Hughes’ reaction to the trade

“I didn’t necessarily think it would be the best fit. But as you go through the draft and you go through free agency, and me looking for that shot in the arm or that jolt, this is exactly what that is. I think it could be a positive shot in the arm.

How does Westbrook fit with the Wizards?

“I see it as a new and fresh opportunity...you have shooters, you have young talent. Putting that guy on any lineup, it should make them better. Regardless of his shooting woes, he does enough good things to compensate for some of that negative play...right now you’ve got to be focused on getting some wins.

“I’m excited to see when you talk about surrounding Russ with shooters. There will be guys that played with Russ on OKC teams that shot 40% from three but when we talk about getting volume shots, getting a number of shots through the course of the game, not just your three to four, and your guys have the ability to knock those shots down. Like Brad, Bertans, those guys are going to knock those shots down in volume. I think that’s an advantage to Russ’ game as well.”

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder
Davis Bertans trying to guard Russell Westbrook
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

What does Westbrook bring to the Wizards?

“You’re adding an active guy, an aggressive guy, a guy that’s not going to take (expletive). It’s hard for these guys to play defense in this league with someone who is going to run around like a Tasmanian devil, and have skill too.

“Again, it’s all about getting wins at this point. He’s an MVP. For all the negative things you can say about Russ’ game, he’s a bona fide MVP. And he’s (been) in the conversation multiple years. I think that you have to welcome him into the team, and take all of the things that come with him, in order to get wins. That has to be the main goal.”

Westbrook averaging a triple double and the notion of empty stats

“I think he has the focus. It takes a lot of focus to do that night in and night out. Whether guys are moving out of the way (on rebounds). Whether you’re getting six or seven assists off guys in transition shooting layups. It’s tough to do that night in and night out. And talk about a guy who’s averaged a triple double over multiple seasons.

“It’s hard to pick something bad out of Steven Adams moving out of the way because a lot of times you saw that. But in the scheme of their game, you want to get the ball in his (Westbrook’s) hands as soon as you can. Instead of passing him the ball after a free throw, if he already has it he’s just putting that much more pressure on the defense.”

NBA: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook trying to block Bradley Beal’s shot
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Recording even one triple double

“I might have had one or two. {EDITOR’S NOTE: Hughes had one triple double. It came Nov. 28, 2004 — 33 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists in a 114-109 Wizards victory at the Toronto Raptors.} I mean, it’s hard. I can get 15 rebounds and then only have four assists. It’s tough to get a triple double in the league and for a guy that averaged a triple double, I don’t think we talk about that enough, honestly.

“Listen, man, you got these guys out here scoring 60 points, 70 points. It’s almost easy to do that (relative to averaging a triple double). You get a lot of shots, you get a lot of possessions, the three ball is very hot. But for a guy to average a triple double, I mean, that’s tough.”

Guarding Westbrook

“[I defended him] Early on when he was really a wild man and didn’t have a lot of understanding of how to maneuver within the NBA game. I didn’t get a chance to guard the Mamba Mentality sort of Russ, which obviously he learned that there was skill and will that had to be put together. He was really willing it when I was playing against him.

“But you could see it. He was a guy that wouldn’t stop. He was my match-up and somebody would shoot the ball and he’s just going to attack the rim. That’s what he did from day one. Him and Derrick Rose were very comparable as far as being athletes. Especially at that size, being compact guys.”


Episode breakdown

Initial reaction to the trade - 1:00

Westbrook’s fit in Washington - 3:00

Westbrook’s impact on the Wizards’ defense - 4:30

Surrounding him with more perimeter shooters than he’s ever had - 7:30

How hard it is to record even one triple double - 8:30

What it’s like to guard Westbrook - 9:30

Beal’s role in all of this - 10:30

Did Beal and Wall actually want to play together? - 12:00

Was GM Tommy Sheppard saying very recently that he wouldn’t trade Wall a smokescreen? - 13:30

What Hughes has heard from guys around the league about playing with Westbrook - 15:00

Scott Brooks’ (seemingly inevitable) extension - 17:00

Wall’s somewhat complicated legacy in Washington - 18:30

Wall’s fit in Houston - 22:30

Deni Avdija’s comments on following the defensive scouting report and whether he can guard positions one through four - 24;00

How NBA scouting reports are generated and how they helped Hughes become an elite defender - 26:00

Whether Avdija expects to start or is fine coming off the bench - 29:30

Eddie Jordan’s recent comments about Ernie Grunfeld low-balling Hughes in free agency - 31:00

Etan Thomas on how Hughes was able to keep Gilbert Arenas in check and how everything changed after he left - 32:30

The 2000’s Wizards - 34:00

Hughes’ former teammate Nate Robinson’s viral knockout - 36:00