Westbrook and Harden Together Again

Last evening, we saw another blockbuster trade occur in the National Basketball Association. Russell Westbrook was sent to Houston for Chris Paul and a plethora of draft picks. The Thunder acquire the 34-year-old Paul in addition to first round picks in 2024, and 2026, as well as pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

The move for Houston serves as a bolster to strengthen their title odds. Westbrook is obviously younger than Paul, and not as injury prone. For OKC, it’s a chance to restart and get away from the massive contract that Westbrook is owed.

The obvious question on everyone’s mind is how will Russ and James fit together this go around. The two last played together in OKC seven years ago in the 2011-2012 season. Harden was 22, Westbrook 23. Both of their games have evolved and even went on to MVP seasons in back to back years. However, bother need a high usage rating to get the most out of them. Neither particularly seem interested in playing off the ball.

Harden has his isolation sets where he dribbles out the clock in and out of his legs, picking whether he wants to launch from three, drive and draw a foul, or drive and lob to Capella. These are the three most likely outcomes of a Harden isolation possession.

Westbrook is obviously known for being a walking triple-double. Attacking the rim at high speed and frequency, he will often have kick outs for a spot-up three. On paper, it shouldn’t be that much different from the aesthetic put on display every time Chris Paul and Harden shared the court. With this being said, I think this can definitely work out well for the Rockets, but Westbrook needs to allow this to be James Harden team because he is by far their best player. That is not intended to be slander towards Westbrook, because I believe he is a top 15 player in the league. However, his shooting percentages from last season are very concerning. Westbrook shot 42% from the floor last season on 20 attempts per game. From three, he was abysmal shooting 29% on 5.5 attempts per game. However, the most concerning is his free throw percentage, a career low 65%.

Harden’s overall shooting percentage isn’t much better, but he shoots much better from three at a higher volume and shoots 85% from the line. Not to mention, when Harden misses, often times they are good misses that allow for offensive rebounds and putbacks.

I think over the course of the season, the offense will work itself out. Defensively, I think Houston found an upgrade. Westbrook is uber-athletic and hails himself as a world-class defender. Now, Chris Paul has perennially been an All-NBA defender, however with his age increasing, and his body ailing, Westbrook has the potential to be a much better defender for this version of the Houston Rockets. Coupled with James Harden’s improved defense, which I believe will take another jump up next season, they could easily be a top 10 defensive team in the league.

Regardless if they made a move or not, Houston should be a lock to win the Southwest division. Memphis has gutted their team, the Pelicans will be a young and fun team but pose no real threat, the Spurs have only one star who doesn’t necessarily fit into the modern NBA in Demar DeRozan, and have made no meaningful additions. The Mavericks who acquired Kristaps Porzingis, have the most potential to be a threat in the division, but Luka and Kristaps have yet to play together and are both quite young.

Unfortunately for the Rockets(8/1), they have much more than just the Southwest division to worry about. Currently, the Clippers(7/2), Lakers(9/2), and Bucks(9/2) are listed ahead of them on NBA Future boards as the most likely teams to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy next year. The Warriors, Jazz, Nuggets, and Blazers are poised for a title run next season. Perhaps this is the reason they made the move, figuring they had to make some sort of splash to give themselves a better chance at winning it all.

They had been locked into CP3’s contract for another three years when he will be 36. So the move allows them some freedom in that regard. However, the Westbrook contract isn’t any more team friendly. He is now scheduled to be a member of the Rockets until 2023 when he will be owed a gaudy $41,00,000. So, if the move proves to be a disaster, they may have completely put a lock on their future. It is a truly high risk, high reward scenario. If Russ and James can figure things out, we may be in store for some awe-inspiring, fast-paced breakneck basketball. If not, things may get uglier than my dad dancing at a wedding.

Published by Footy Foster

26 years young. Located in San Diego. I coach high school soccer, sell solar panels, podcast, and blog. My interest and hobbies include listening to music - hip-hop, alternative, and classic rock, - playing and watching soccer, and skiing. I aspire to travel and live a truly free life. These will more often than not be the subject matter of my blogs, as well as an attempt at humor. We'll see about that last part. Enjoy.

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