With his fearless nature and relentless attacking, Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook resembles last year’s MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in many ways.
While he understandably had some rough early stretches, Russell Westbrook has emerged as a dominant force for the Houston Rockets. For a stretch from January to February, Westbrook averaged 33.4 points per game, 52.6 percent shooting and 8.2 assists per game.
The Rockets are still very much in the middle of tinkering with their rotations and strategies since recently acquiring Robert Covington, Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll, but the biggest constant for the team since the new year rolled around has been the play of Russell.
James Harden, of course, is still leading the team and entire NBA in scoring at 35.2 points per game, however, he has had some inconsistent efforts at times lately. Fresh off a long All-Star break, I fully expect The Beard to return to his early-season MVP form, which will be lethal assuming Russ keeps up his elite level of play.
With less than 30 games remaining this season, Russell is showing similarities to another NBA MVP more and more as he adapts to the Rockets’ innovative offense: the Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The 25-year-old has emerged as a world-class talent over the last four seasons and has upped his numbers even more from his MVP season last year. So, how much does the 6-3 Westbrook have in common with the 6-11 Giannis?
Next: No. 3
3. Doing Everything on the Court
2019-20 Stats: Antetokounmpo – 30 PPG, 13.5 REB, 5.8 AST Westbrook – 27 PPG, 7.9 REB, 7.3 AST
When it comes to having an all-around game, it’s hard to get any better than Russell Westbrook. The 31-year-old has already accomplished something that seemed impossible since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62: average a triple-double for a season. In fact, Russ did so for three straight seasons from 2016-19.
This statistic remains one of the most mind-boggling individual accomplishments in NBA history. Think about it: The Brodie averaged 26.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.5 assists over three years in the league with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the first year of doing so, Westbrook won the regular season NBA MVP Award, which is what Giannis took home last season.
In looking at the year The Greek Freak is having, he certainly fits the mold of someone that’s doing everything well for his team as well. While he set new season-highs in points, rebounds and assists in his MVP season last year, he’s actually improved his points and rebounds this season.
While Giannis has a slight advantage in career rebounding average at 8.8 to Russ’s 7.1, Westbrook has a clear advantage in assists, at 8.3 to Giannis’ 4.3. Given the positions both guys play, these numbers make perfect sense.
Russell has been averaging these kinds of numbers for about 10 years though, so maybe when it comes to this category, we should be talking about how Giannis resembles a taller Westbrook and not the other way around.
Next: No. 2
2. Dominating in Transition
Probably the biggest way Russell Westbrook has changed the Rockets’ style of play for the better is through his relentless attacks in transition. After the Rockets were near the bottom of the league in pace of play last season, which is rare for a D’Antoni-led team, he has them at second in the NBA in that category this season, behind The Greek Freak’s Milwaukee Bucks.
Mike D’Antoni is at his best with a fast-paced, shooter-heavy team, and the presence of Russell Westbrook allows for both to be the case for the Rockets this season. It’s no surprise that the Rockets are currently in the top five in the NBA when it comes to points off turnovers.
Russell has been a one-man wrecking crew frequently in the open court, and with the new, extreme version of the small-ball Rockets, they have been forcing even more turnovers as of late. Houston is forcing 15.7 turnovers per game, which is fifth in the league, while Giannis’ Bucks are surprisingly tied for 17th in the league at 14.3.
Still, individually Giannis is leading the league by a wide margin in fastbreak points per game, using his long strides to attack the hoop and tally 6.3 per game. Russ is next on the list, with 4.9 per game.
Both Russell and Giannis have a special talent for making the right play in the open court, whether it be taking it all the way themselves or finding the open man, and their teams are reaping the benefits.
Next: No. 1
1. Fearlessly Attacking the Rim
It’s hard to find a Houston Rocket in recent history that had the sheer will to get to the hoop that Russell Westbrook has. Whether it be off missed shots, made shots or turnovers, Beastbrook has been putting pressure on opposing defenses all season long.
Within the top seven in the NBA in average points in the paint scored so far, Russell is the only guard. At 15 points per game from that area, Westbrook is scoring more inside than Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, to name a few.
At the top of the league is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 18 of his 30 points per game from inside the paint. When watching him play, it’s easy to see how that’s the case. Giannis is basically able to dunk the ball after taking two steps from beyond the 3-point line, so it’s actually surprising he’s not averaging 20-plus points per game from inside.
While Antetokounmpo has been dominating for the past few years, Russell has been doing so for much longer, but nonetheless the two still bear a resemblance to each other that can’t be denied.
The Rockets have been proving that size in the league doesn’t matter and Westbrook is the shining example of that.