Ever since Paul George was traded on July 4th, Russell Westbrook‘s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder has been inevitable. On the 11th July, Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first round picks in 2024 and 2026 as well as two pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.
This, of course, means that Westbrook will be reuniting with his former partner in crime – James Harden.
A back court duo of Westbrook and Harden sounds extremely appealing. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has always subscribed himself to the mindset of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ or in this case, get the superstar first and sort everything else out afterwards. This is clearly the case here. With this in mind, if this Westbrook experiment fails, then Morey is fired. But I believe it’s a risk worth taking.
When analysing what Westbrook and Harden will look like on the court, it makes sense to look at how Harden fared when paired with another superstar point guard in Chris Paul. Together, Paul and Harden excelled in Houston. Achieving the number one seed in 2017 and having a real shot at winning the NBA Finals in that year, going 7 games against the Warriors who would go on to sweep Cleveland. This proves that the common narrative that Harden can’t play with a ‘ball-dominant’ point guard is a fallacy.
The thought of Westbrook in a Mike D’Antoni system is quite intriguing. Westbrook is constantly portrayed as a ball-hog and while it is true that the former MVP takes a few too many shots per game, he’s been averaging 10+ assists a season since 2015, obtaining a new high this most recent season with 10.7 assists per game. In D’Antoni’s system, point guards are key, as seen in Phoenix with Steve Nash and Houston with Harden/Paul. Any place D’Antoni has succeeded it has been in synergy with a star point guard. Combine this with Morey and D’Anonti’s love for analytics and efficiency reigning in Russ’s erratic three-point shooting, I see no reason, other than physical decline/injury, why Westbrook’s play would take a step back this season.
While it is true that Chris Paul is a better three-point shooter, averaging 35.8% from beyond the arc last season to Westbrook’s 29%, the trade off in both athleticism, defence and leadership is entirely in Houston’s favour. Harden’s three-point shooting has improved every year, tenfold under D’Antoni, if Westbrook can meld his game with efficient shooting then we could see the perfect mixture between passion, intensity and heart and analytics, efficiency and ‘money-ball’.
Looking at this Rockets roster, the starting five is expected to be: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela. This is the starting five that pushed the 2017/18 Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals. Swapping out Chris Paul for Westbrook is a net positive move for Houston. In a loaded Western Conference, a combination of Westbrook, Harden and D’Antoni could formulate an offence that will run with violent efficiency which will give them a good chance at competing for the title come next season.