Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook has a new chance to shape the West
The Houston Rockets have made some serious moves this offseason and they could really shape the Western Conference next season.
The off-season of superstar realignment finally made its way to Houston. After missing out on Jimmy Butler (again), the Houston Rockets secured some of the star-powered capital Daryl Morey has been so desperate to acquire over the last few seasons: former-MVP Russell Westbrook. And no matter how many jump shots he may brick, Russ is still a game changer.
In adding Westbrook, the Rockets have the paired two of the league’s premier guards that will both kick off the season at 30 years old. The duo has accounted for 15 All-Star selections, 14 All-NBA selections, four scoring titles, two MVPs, and the last three assist titles over the last decade. The accolades are nearly split down the middle, but the way they tear up the game is more different.
Harden prefers to lull opponents into a slumber before breaking them off into oblivion. Russ is more apt to do this or this. Subtlety is not his forte.
Ferocity is one of the attributes that make him so great.
His effort dial was accidentally twisted past max and broken off while in the whom. It led to his ridiculous record of three consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. It led to one of the most ridiculous performances in league history. It leads to steals and deflections and dunks and pandemonium and feuds, but to this point it hasn’t led to a championship.
But until now he has never had a team that shoots the ball quite like this Rockets squad. The Rockets made nearly 400 more 3-pointers than Westbrook’s Thunder last season and by adding one of most fearless drivers and pinpoint passers, the Rockets totals may continue to rise this year.
The Brodie’s flaws are known. His MVP campaign was the only time in the last five season he has eclipsed 30 percent in 3-point percentage. Last year’s 29 percent mark would have placed him 16th among players to suit up for the Rockets and let me remind you teams can only roster 15 full contracts at once.
For a team that paced the league in both 3-point attempts and makes last season by a significant margin, that could spell trouble. Chris Paul may have looked more like a point guard in his mid-thirties last season, but he still knocked down the long ball at a higher clip (35.8 percent) than Westbrook ever has (career high of 34.3 percent).
Luckily for a Rockets team that nearly requires each shot to be from deep or at the rim, Russ can still do the latter as well as any guard in the game. Last season, he converted 65 percent of his looks inside three feet which could off-set the shooting struggles he claims he will improve upon this offseason.
The biggest problem the team could face is on the defensive end. Paul, to his credit, is a nine-time All-Defense honoree and six-time steals champ and was able to cover-up Harden during their time together. He’s been known for his tenacious on-ball defense as much as his playmaking throughout his career, but Nate Silver’s new defensive stat, DRAWMOND, wasn’t as supportive of his impact on when looking at the shooting numbers of opponents.
The scary part? Russ was even worse.
He graded in the worst 20 defenders by the DRAYMOND metric since the 2013-14 season but did fair better than respected defenders Al-Farouq Aminu and Kent Bazemore last season. For the Rockets to truly contend, they will need continued improvement and focus defensively from Westbrook and not just steals.
All that aside, Westbrook has still won an MVP more recently than LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. He owns three of the four seasons in which a player has averaged a triple-double. He’s never been afraid of a big shot. He brings along 98 games of playoff experience and Finals pedigree. He will also be joining the man who has finished either first or second in MVP voting four of the last five years, so the top of the food chain should be set.
With the Western Conference deeper than it was last season, there is a possibility of a 45+ win team holding down the nine seed when the season ends. The Era of Dynamic Duos is upon us and the Rockets have locked in their NBA Jam squad. The dynamic is much different than the last time the Brodie and the Beard teamed up. Pairing these two high-usage players could end up being volatile and frenzied.
But Russ wouldn’t have it any other way.