While Russell Westbrook and James Harden are carrying the load for the Houston Rockets, they’re also coughing the ball up way too often this season.
The Houston Rockets have gotten off to a 15-8 start, which is certainly respectable in the wild Western Conference. Still, as a team that’s boasting the NBA’s first-ever backcourt made up of two former MVPs, they should be a bit further along than they are as of now. While the offense is hardly to blame for Houston’s shortcomings, there’s no doubt that turnovers have cost the team a few games this season, and those two MVPs are the main culprits.
The Rockets have steadily been among the top offenses in the league throughout most of the season, which is no surprise considering Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s resumé and the ability of James Harden and Russell Westbrook to light up the scoreboard. They currently rank second in the league in points per game (120.4), third in the league in offensive rating and first in the league in both 3-pointers (15.8) and free throws made per game (23.2).
Hidden in all the impressive offensive numbers, however, is a dark spot that is costing the Rockets important games. Houston’s 15.9 turnovers per game currently have them at 21st in the league, and the timing of many of these giveaways have made the difference in plenty of close matchups.
The heartbreaking loss against the Sacramento Kings on Monday was a prime example of turnovers killing the Rockets down the stretch. Houston committed 19 turnovers in the game compared to nine for Sacramento. Westbrook (six) and Harden (eight) alone had more turnovers than Buddy Hield and the Kings as a team, which certainly made a difference in a one-point last-second loss.
One noticeable bad habit of Harden’s has been his tendency to try and split double-teams. The Beard is often trying to sell a foul call while stepping through two stationary bodies and the officials aren’t falling for it. Westbrook’s main fault, meanwhile, has been his recklessness in pursuit of trying to force action. Russ has shown more restraint as of late, so hopefully, he can remedy the turnovers sooner than later as he learns where to find his teammates on the floor.
As it sits now, Harden and Westbrook are first and third in the league in terms of turnovers committed per game, at 5.1 and 4.6, respectively. As we’ve discussed previously, you have to go back to 2014-15 to find a season in which Russ and James didn’t finish one and two in turnovers per game. This season, they’re one Trae Young away from doing that once again, but this time on the same team.
The Rockets are not going to accomplish their ultimate goal of taking an NBA championship back to Houston if they continue to give the ball away as often as they are doing so far. While leading the league in threes and free-throw attempts is a good thing, it’s also what has doomed the Rockets on more than one occasion. Too many times, guys are seeking to get fouled first and score the ball second, and James Harden is the biggest offender of this.
We’ve seen what Russell can do when he attacks the basket with reckless abandon. If he continues to do that and James shifts more toward scoring and less toward drawing contact, the turnovers should cut down, which will only improve the Rockets’ chances of achieving greatness this season.