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Houston Rockets: With Westbrook, team must wear track shoes, shooters need to be ready to fire

By Andy Yanez
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets have been inconsistent to begin the season, but one thing has already been made clear, a new identity with Russell Westbrook leading the way.

The Houston Rockets picked up their second win of the season on Monday night as Houston welcomed back Chris Paul to Toyota Center, and Russell Westbrook played against Oklahoma City for the first time in his career.

Despite the early struggles in the first half, it seemed like something clicked for the Houston Rockets in the second half. The defense stiffened, the offense found a groove, and above all else, Westbrook’s fingerprints were all over the game.

Westbrook was an assist shy of his second triple-double of the season with 21 points, 9 assists and 12 rebounds against the Thunder, but his impact on the game transcended the stat-sheet.

All night long, Westbrook was attacking the Thunder in transition and setting up whichever Rockets’ player ran the floor with him.

For years, Rockets’ fans criticized MVP voters for giving Westbrook the edge over Harden for the 2017 MVP because he averaged two more rebounds, but after looking at Westbrook under a closer microscope, those rebounds are more important than they seem from just a box score.

Westbrook’s rebounds energize the team; they get the players running; they help Westbrook get engaged.

At one point, Westbrook soared over Steven Adams for one of his nine boards and immediately took off to start a Rockets fast break.

Westbrook got another rebound in the final minute of the fourth quarter that extended Houston’s possession, and then Westbrook penetrated the paint and was able to pull off an absurd dish to P.J. Tucker for a dagger 3-point basket.

The impact Westbrook is already having on the team is a major positive for Houston, which can be seen with how fast the Rockets are playing.

Although early, Houston is already among the top five teams in the league in pace, which is a huge difference from last season when the Rockets were just 27th.

The player who has benefitted the most from Westbrook’s play has been Tucker, who is averaging 16.7 points on 66.7 percent 3-point shooting. As it was exemplified late in the game, Westbrook has an act for finding the open shooters, especially in the corners.

Despite Harden struggling to shoot the ball at an efficient rate (he is shooting 15 percent on threes), the Rockets have been able to find success, and it is all due to Westbrook.

Last year, the Rockets did not have a second playmaker who could not only create shots for others but also for himself. Chris Paul just could not create separation on a consistent basis, which allowed teams to focus primarily on Harden.

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That is not the case this season, Westbrook’s explosiveness is a real threat to teams, and it adds a wrinkle to the Houston Rockets offense that they did not have last season.

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