Houston Rockets: Why ESPN’s Jay Williams was wrong about Harden/Russ friction

James Harden Russell Westbrook Houston Rockets (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
James Harden Russell Westbrook Houston Rockets (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

ESPN’s Jay Williams has a proven history of engaging in Houston Rockets’ slander, most recently including his speculation of distrust between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Here’s why Williams’ opinion was highly erroneous!

Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season, the Houston Rockets faced many questions, but the main one was regarding the pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The early results have been up-and-down and essentially too small of a sample size to draw a conclusion. Regardless of the assessment of the newly formed duo, the Rockets currently have a record of 16-8, which is good for fourth in the Western Conference standings.

What’s more impressive about this is the fact that the Houston Rockets have had a large number of injuries, most notably to Eric Gordon, who is a former Sixth Man of the Year recipient. On top of that, Harden has topped off his historical scoring from the 2018-19 season with even more scoring this year.

Through 24 games, The Beard is currently averaging 38.7 points per game on fewer field goal attempts than last season. Harden has improved upon his ability to get to the line, as he’s averaging 14 free throw attempts per game compared to 11 trips to the line last season.  Not only that, the 2018 MVP has increased his Player Efficiency Rating and his true shooting percentage from the 2018-19 season as well, which is a testament to Harden’s ability to continuously improve.

On the flip side, Westbrook is averaging 22.5 points per game on 42.2 percent from the field, which is identical to the 22.9 points he added per game on 42.8 percent from the field last season. Sure Westbrook has certainly had his struggles from the 3-point line, but that was to be expected as he’s not known for being a sniper from deep.

Regardless of whether the Westbrook/Harden has been successful or not, the reality is the fact that there are many “experts” who are hoping to see signs of dysfunction, even if there is none. The most recent example of this was ESPN’s Jay Williams during Thursday’s episode of Get Up.

.@RealJayWilliams is sensing some serious trust issues between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And it's showing on the court. pic.twitter.com/kiTcAtybrK

— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) December 12, 2019

Williams’ take is outrageous to say the least, but it’s quite amusing that he gets Harden and Westbrook confused on multiple occasions when he first reverts to the Cleveland Cavaliers game tape. On top of that, Harden/Russ have played together in 22 games this season yet Williams is attempting to use one play during a Rockets’ victory as proof of distrust between The Beard and The Brodie. Not only that, Williams’ argument was proven wrong by the fact that Harden actually passed the ball to Westbrook for the open 3-pointer.

But on top of that, Williams makes the assumption that Harden is debating whether to try and beat his defender or to get the ball to Westbrook for an open shot, which is impossible to prove. It’s also entirely possible that Harden may have been waiting for a back door cut from Ben McLemore or P.J. Tucker, as they were both open behind the 3-point line. Either of these would have been a high percentage play. Harden also may have been waiting for Russ to cut to the basket, which would have also been a high percentage play.

This is another example of how so many in the national media have been rooting for the Houston Rockets to fail, and Williams is no stranger to that. If you recall, Williams downplayed an earlier Rockets’ game against the Washington Wizards in which Westbrook had a triple-double and Harden had an incredibly efficient 59 points.

Everyone talking about James Harden & his 59 pts this am.. why? My takeaway was .. how the hell did a team that could contend for a world championship give up 158 pts to the @WashWizards ? I mean.. the wizards.

— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) October 31, 2019

In that game, Harden shot 56.3 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from downtown and 94.4 percent from the charity stripe, which wasn’t enough for Williams. Williams chose to ignore Harden/Westbrook’s performances to focus on the Rockets’ opponent, as if they have control over their schedule.

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At the end of the day, Harden and Russ have done fairly well thus far and have shown no signs of distrust between the two of them. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite considering the fact that Westbrook is taking the same number of shots as he did last season in Oklahoma City and has a higher usage rate than he did during that same season. You’d have to think that each of those statistics would be quite different if Harden didn’t trust Russ.

The Rockets will just have to stay focused and block out the masses of people like Williams who are rooting for the Houston Rockets to fail. Besides, it’s not like this is anything new for the Rockets, and especially not for Harden.