In a survey with a dozen NBA executives, the consensus view is that Russell Westbrook does not make the Houston Rockets better.
Ethan Strauss from The Athletic (subscription required) did a survey with 12 executives from around the league and asked them three interesting questions about some of the top teams in the Western Conference. He asked if the Warriors would make the playoffs, how much better the Clippers are than the Lakers and if the Houston Rockets are better than they were a season ago.
The execs in the survey are confident in Golden State’s chances at making the postseason and they’re probably right. The Warriors still have one of the best players in the league in Stephen Curry, one of the best defenders in the league in Draymond Green and they added D’Angelo Russell, whose career year earned him a spot on the All-Star team last season.
The execs also agreed that the Clippers are better than the Lakers, and again, this is the correct take. Both teams have elite duos, but the Clippers have a bit more depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who are probably the two best bench players in the league. Not to mention, any squad with Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter is going to make life extremely tough for opposing ball-handlers.
It’s unclear how big of a gap exists between the two teams and the Lakers are obviously going to be really good, but LeBron James‘ defense has really taken a step back and injuries played a large part in his season for the first time in his career. Father Time is undefeated, and if it starts to show on LeBron, the Clippers will definitely have an advantage over the Lakers.
The last question regarding the Houston Rockets is the one that the league execs got wrong. None of the dozen executives think Houston is better going into this season than they were last season. Unsurprisingly, the biggest reason they think the Rockets are about the same is because they don’t think James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to share the ball.
Of course, everyone said the same thing when the Rockets traded for Chris Paul in 2017, but Houston went on to win a franchise best 65 games that season.
If the Rockets traded prime Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, the execs would have a point, but CP3 is no longer at his peak. Paul lost a bit of speed and quickness last season and he struggled to blow past defenders and create the kind of space for himself and his teammates that we’ve seen from him over the years. Paul averaged career-lows in points, field goal percentage and player efficiency rating last season, so his numbers reflect a gradual decline that comes with age.
Westbrook, meanwhile, is still in his physical prime and is nearly four years younger than Paul. He’s a bigger, stronger, faster and more explosive athlete and is undoubtedly a better player than Paul at this point in their careers.
Fit and chemistry will take time to develop with Harden and Westbrook, but you can make the same argument for every new duo around the league. Westbrook makes Houston more talented, which makes them a better team than they were a season ago.