Houston Rockets: How Russell Westbrook can flourish in an off-ball role

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets speaks with Russell Westbrook #0 (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets speaks with Russell Westbrook #0 (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have two guards who can close out a game. How should they best use James Harden and Russell Westbrook together?

The Houston Rockets have a history of becoming very predictable at the end of games.  They typically run out their P.J. Tucker at center lineups and have everyone spotting up around James Harden isolating.  With Russell Westbrook being in the picture now, that makes them a lot easier to guard.  As he is not a spot-up threat, teams will use his man to help the defender guarding Harden.

How do the Rockets get the best out of Harden and Westbrook in these clutch moments?  The answer might be to use Westbrook like Golden State uses Draymond Green. It sounds crazy, but the evidence is right in front of our faces, Westbrook would thrive as the “offensive center” when he is paired with Harden on the court, and there is no true center on the floor.

The first aspect of this is getting Westbrook into the short-roll situation.  When an elite ball handler gets a high pick, lots of teams will send both defenders to trap the ball-handler. This is when having someone who can get to the basket and create for others out of the short-roll becomes essential. Draymond Green has made this famous. See the video below:

Durant sets up Draymond Green for the powerful throw down! #DubNation

?: @ESPNNBA pic.twitter.com/8SyJhWpLU0

— NBA (@NBA) February 15, 2018

Kevin Durant runs a pick and roll with Green here and both defenders initially go towards KD. He immediately throws a pocket-pass to Green, who takes one dribble and dunks it.

Can you think of a better pocket-passer than Harden? Can you think of someone who would be harder to stop with a running-start to the rim than Westbrook?

One-way teams would defend the Harden-Westbrook pick and roll would be to switch. This seems reasonable considering they’re both guards and will both likely have one of the opposing team’s best defenders on them already. Well in the following video, Green shows how if there is even a half of a second of confusion, he can turn that into a dunk with one dribble.


Imagine how much easier Westbrook makes that play.

Next, there’s the playmaking aspect. Green is an elite passer and when he is acting as the roll-man he is typically in 3-on-2 situations.


Watch Draymond Green survey his options while triple-teamed to find the open shooter! #DubNation #NBABreakdown pic.twitter.com/w8ZODV01Db

— NBA (@NBA) May 9, 2017

Westbrook is an elite passer as well. He will consistently be able to find shooters out of the short-roll.

Lastly, let’s say the defense can switch the Westbrook-Harden pick and roll with no issues. The Rockets can counter by stationing Westbrook in the dunkers’ spot, where Clint Capela usually hangs out.  Now the defense must choose between taking their big out the paint to guard P.J. Tucker or putting the big on Westbrook so he can still protect the paint.

If defenses put a big on Westbrook, Harden can hunt the big by calling for a pick from Westbrook to try and get the switch. This will result in either the big switching on to him, Harden being able to attack the paint without a rim-protector present, or Westbrook will be left with the mismatch to attack. I’ll take all those options.

Even if Westbrook gets left in the dunkers spot, he is an athletic freak. He is not as capable as Capela from there, but he will certainly be able to finish with the best of them. The video below shows him catching a lob in a very similar situation.

Beard to Broadie! #AssistOfTheGame@bbva | #CreatingOpportunities pic.twitter.com/Ue4sPUzzDA

— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) October 29, 2019

At the end of the day, I am not saying Westbrook needs to be a full-time center, or even anything close to that. I am just throwing out an idea that I think would flourish if used in a small dosage.

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

When the team is in high-leverage moments and buckets are tougher to come by, they have an ace in the hole that could take their competition by storm.