How Russell Westbrook’s positive COVID-19 result will test the Rockets

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets temporarily will be without Russell Westbrook after his positive COVID-19 test, but what could that cost them in the long run?

Russell Westbrook’s positive COVID-19 test was one hurdle the Houston Rockets were hoping to avoid in the NBA’s grand restart experiment. Westbrook, so used to being at the center of his team, will now have to self-quarantine as the Rockets prepare for the NBA’s planned July 30th restart in Orlando.

According to CDC guidelines, even if Westbrook is asymptomatic, he should self-quarantine for at least ten days and have had two negative COVID-19 tests taken 24 hours apart. Westbrook’s positive COVID-19 test probably will not cause him to miss the start of the playoffs, which are scheduled for August 17th.

Depending on when he tested positive, though, it could potentially prevent him from playing in Houston’s first game of the restart against the Dallas Mavericks and will cast a shadow on his availability for every game after.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, their first four games of the restart against the Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Portland Trail Blazers are a much tougher slate of opponents than their final four of the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Breaking down the final eight games for the Rockets. Related Story

Westbrook’s first season in Houston has been portrayed as a down year for the former MVP. It must be nice to average 27.5 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds in a down year, but that’s what happens when you average a triple-double for three straight seasons.

Westbrook is not the same game-wrecking force he was in earlier campaigns but he still has a massive role for the league’s second highest-scoring offense. His usage rate of 34.4 percent is sixth in the league and his 27.5 points per game account for 23.3 percent of the Rockets’ 118.1 points per game.

The Rockets might be losing even more than Westbrook’s 27.5 points per game as he had found a new level when the Rockets went to micro ball. January 29th marked the last night the Rockets started Clint Capela as a traditional center.

Mike D’Antoni, unhindered by dogma, broke free from the shackles of convention in an effort to unleash a more deadly version of Russell Westbrook and, in the process, ushered in the micro-ball era.

How Micro Ball Unleashed Russell Westbrook

The pre-micro-ball era of Russell Westbrook was still an All-Star, averaging 26.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 8.1 rebounds on 45.5 percent shooting, but micro-ball Westbrook would be an MVP candidate over a full season after averaging 31 points, 5.8 assists, and 7.8 rebounds on 52.5 percent shooting.

Even Westbrook’s 3-point shooting, his Achilles heel, has seen an uptick going from 23.5 percent to 35.5 percent, although in far fewer attempts a game. The micro-ball version of Westbrook has shown what no other scheme has been able to unlock in him, efficient shooting.

For his career, Westbrook has been 4 percent worse than league average from the field and 15 percent worse on 3-pointers. MicroRuss, however,  has been 14 percent better than league average from the field and only 1 percent worse than league average on threes.

It didn't take long for Russell Westbrook to find his stride in Houston ?

The Rockets will need his stellar production when the NBA returns

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 7, 2020

Those are massive improvements and bode well for the Rockets once he comes back, which is what makes his positive test result so deflating. The lost practice time will prevent him from fine-tuning and possibly unlocking another level to the Rockets’ micro-ball system before games begin and it may even hamper their ability to get going early on.

The Rockets, if they want to make a push for the title, have to hope that Westbrook can pick up where he left off.

Houston faced an uphill battle if they wanted to move up into the third seed but any absence from Westbrook could force them to have to hold off the Mavericks for the sixth seed. They know they have a puncher’s chance with a fully healthy team and should be wary to play Westbrook big minutes before he is physically ready.

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The Rockets have the best version of Russell Westbrook and can upend any of the title favorites as long as he is healthy. Westbrook’s positive COVID-19 test will no doubt hurt the Rockets in the short term but if he is back and fully operational, it won’t sink their title chances one bit.