Rockets vs Thunder: A tale of two Russell Westbrooks

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets this past off-season, everyone knew it would be a period of adjustment. If you look at the numbers, there are some similarities and differences between his time in Oklahoma City and his first year with the Rockets.

In case you haven’t heard, the Houston Rockets face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, which is a homecoming for Russell Westbrook. With that being the case, this makes for a good time to look at how Russell Westbrook has performed with the Houston Rockets as compared to last season with Oklahoma City.

How Russ is performing better in Houston

When Westbrook arrived in Houston, many believed his shot attempts and scoring would go down since he would be sharing the ball with James Harden. However, through 31 games this season, Westbrook’s shot attempts have actually increased from 20.2 last year with the Thunder to 21.2 with the Rockets. Westbrook’s two-point attempts have also increased from 14.5 to 16.4, in large part because of the added space he is getting due to constant double-teams on Harden.

Another area of improvement for Westbrook is surprisingly his scoring, which is the opposite of what was expected. Many thought that joining Harden would suppress Westbrook’s shot-attempts and scoring, but it’s actually done just the opposite. Westbrook is currently averaging 24.1 points per game as compared to 22.9 points per game during the 2018-19 season, which has contributed to him and Harden being the highest-scoring duo since the 1961-62 season.

The false narrative of Harden being a ball-hog and dribbling out the shot clock doesn’t support these increases. With Harden garnering so much attention from the defense, it has given Westbrook lanes to the basket he hasn’t had since he played alongside Kevin Durant.

Westbrook’s inconsistent 3-point shooting

Early in the season, Westbrook’s shooting percentage from outside the paint was trending in the wrong direction. Westbrook started the first two months shooting 23 percent from 3-point range and 36.2 percent from mid-range but has seen these numbers steadily rise to 37.1 percent from mid-range and 23.5 from deep.

Another positive trend relates to Russ’s 3-point attempts, as they’ve dropped from 5.6 last season to 4.8 attempts this season. While this may not seem like a huge difference, considering Westbrook’s 23 percent from 3-point range, the fewer outside shots, the better. The last couple of weeks have shown that Westbrook can make the open shot from downtown in the clutch but he is being more selective when he does take them.

Numbers that are virtually the same

There are some statistics that are similar to last season for Westbrook, such as overall field goal percentage, free throw attempts, and minutes per game. Furthermore, The Brodie’s offensive rebound numbers are virtually the same, although his defensive rebounds are down. This shows that even though Westbrook is not the main focus on offense, he is still putting up similar numbers in most categories and even better numbers in other categories.

Moving forward

The Westbrook Experience has been a roller coaster, from missed open 3-pointers and wild turnovers to electric dunks and all-out intensity. The good for the Rockets has outweighed the bad, as seen by the Rockets’ top-three standing in the Western Conference.

With more room to roam combined with not having to bring the ball up the court every possession, his overall numbers should continue to improve. Teams will have to decide if they want to continue to double Harden and leave an open lane to another MVP. The struggles early on seem to be more a product of a new environment and offseason surgery.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder version of Russell Westbrook was an unstoppable force who was capable of taking over any game. Similarly, the Houston Rockets’ version of Westbrook is the exact same player who can dominate most games, but the difference is simply that he doesn’t have to anymore.