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The biggest takeaway from the Houston Rockets season opener

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After watching the Houston Rockets in the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, it became clear that Russell Westbrook’s transition play will change this team’s offense for the better.

The Houston Rockets blew a 16-point lead in their season opener loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Their offense and defense fell apart in the second half, and even after Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out with 5:18 left in regulation, Houston still couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

However, there was one big takeaway from the game: Russell Westbrook‘s play style could turn the Rockets into the best offensive team in the league this season.

Westbrook is exactly what Houston has been missing. The Rockets finished second in offensive rating in the 2018-19 season, in large part due to James Harden‘s elite isolation play and Chris Paul‘s wizardry in pick-and-roll sets.

However, despite the past reputation of Mike D’Antoni led teams, the Rockets were mostly a half-court ball-club, as they finished just 27th in the league in pace and 19th in fast break points last season.

On Thursday night, the Rockets dropped 27 fast break points on the Bucks, who were first in opponent fast break points last season, allowing just 11.0 per game. Keep in mind that this is roughly the same core whose season high for fast break points was 27 after averaging just 12 fast break points per game last season. Houston’s newfound proficiency on the break is one of the many advantages of having Westbrook, and Mike D’Antoni is looking to take advantage of his point guard’s speed in the open court.

Mike D’Antoni on the Rockets’ pace with Russell Westbrook: “Six seconds or less, baby. We’re working on it.” Houston had 27 fast break points in the opener, matching their most in any game last season.

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) October 25, 2019

Westbrook, who secured 16 rebounds to go along with 24 points in his Rockets’ debut, torched Milwaukee on the break. Westbrook’s ability to grab the ball off the glass and go without the need for an outlet pass puts him in a lot of 1-on-1 situations in transition, a contest he will win more often than not.

We even saw a few assists from Harden to Westbrook on the break in the game against Milwaukee, one of which led to a dunk for Westbrook. Those types of plays rarely happened with Harden and Paul, as playing at that type of pace doesn’t suit Paul’s skills.

Mike D'Antoni on Russ and Rockets' pace: “Six seconds or less, baby. We’re working on it," per @espn_macmahon pic.twitter.com/bvBEEejVoC

— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) October 25, 2019

Westbrook’s ability in the open court will also open up 3-point opportunities for his teammates trailing the play. As the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen pointed out, the Rockets generated 22 open (nearest defender four to six feet away) or wide open (nearest defender six or more feet away) 3-pointers against Milwaukee in the second half alone. Keep in mind that the Bucks were the best defensive team in the league last season and their players possess elite length.

Many of those open 3’s were the result of Westbrook charging down the middle of the court, forcing Milwaukee’s defense to collapse. Harden and Gordon, Houston’s first and third options, shot just 4-for-20 from downtown, which won’t happen often. If Houston makes a few more of those wide open 3’s, the outcome of the game would’ve been much different.

Destroying the myth of James Harden as a playoff choker. Next

Once James Harden and Russell Westbrook become accustomed to sharing the floor together, this Houston Rockets offense will go to a new level. Westbrook’s skills on the break can make Houston’s offense the best in the league.

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