Was Gary Payton right about Rockets’ star Russell Westbrook?

Gary Payton (L) of the Seattle SuperSonics (Photo by JAMES NIELSEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAMES NIELSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Gary Payton (L) of the Seattle SuperSonics (Photo by JAMES NIELSEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read JAMES NIELSEN/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

How Westbrook is different

Westbrook is a bit of a different story, as he averaged double-digits in assists in each of the previous four seasons. Russ also led the league in assists in two consecutive seasons between 2017-2019, which isn’t something a non-passer would pull off.

Westbrook has a career average of 8.3 assists and even finished 11th in assists during the 2019-20 season, which is more impressive than it may sound. We have to keep in mind that Russ was in his first season in Houston and played during a season in which the Rockets shifted their offensive gameplan midway through the season.

Payton later explained why he views Rondo as a true point guard:

“Rondo is a true point guard. He looks first to get people off, he does his defense, and he makes people better around him. Not ‘let me score 30’ or ‘let me shoot a jump shot first.’ He’s not doing that.

Chris Paul is starting to turn into a shooting guard more. But Rondo is a true point guard. If he’s on a fast break, he’s not going to pull up for a three. He’s gonna observe everything and see what the right play is.”

For starters, Rondo isn’t pulling up for a 3-pointer because that’s not his specialty, and he couldn’t score 30 if he was trying to, because he’s not a scorer. And Russ isn’t exactly “looking to score 30,” but if the drives to the basket or the mid-range opportunities are there, the “right play” is to take those shots.

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But Payton loses alot of credibility by stating that CP3 is “starting to turn into a shooting guard,” because CP3 has averaged less than 18 points and 13 field goal attempts per game in each of the last two seasons.  Another thing that’s important to note about a “true point guard” is that they push the pace and set tempo for their team, which has certainly been the case with Russ.

In eight of the last nine seasons, a Russell Westbrook-led team has finished inside of the top ten in pace, which is quite telling. But one of the better examples of this has been the Houston Rockets this season. The Rockets went from 26th in pace during the 2018-19 season to fourth during Westbrook’s first season in the Space City.

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