How Russell Westbrook’s game would have suffered
Russell Westbrook did not play up to expectations throughout the playoffs. There were several moments in both of the Rockets’ matchups where Russ was struggling to drive to the paint without a big man clogging it up. With a more traditional center like Capela in the middle, Westbrook’s already limited impact would have been even more restricted.
Russ and Capela never quite found the same alley-oop chemistry that James Harden found with Clint. Without the ability to facilitate Capela’s game above the rim, that would have left Russ with one fewer option as he struggled to get inside.
In a playoff run where Westbrook often put out high volumes of turnovers, the Rockets could not have afforded to take one more option away from him.
Part of Russ’ effectiveness in Houston also came from his transition game due to his incredible speed and acceleration. He is considered one of the best transition players in the NBA, and Clint Capela was never quite quick enough to be utilized well in fast breaks led by Westbrook.
While Robert Covington is not exactly the fastest player in the league, his fantastic 3-point shooting throughout the postseason gave Russ one more option the many times he found himself in a bind while driving. Covington’s decent ability to drive to the basket also gave the Rockets one more guy who could penetrate and score or kick out.
Though trading Capela took one more offensive option away from Harden, the Beard’s bag is far more vast than Westbrook’s. If Russ cannot explode to the rim or is cold on his mid-range jumper, he is likely not scoring very much. A 6’10 center clogging up the paint would have left him relying far too much on his middie.
As unfortunate as it may have been, trading Capela and going small was the only way the Rockets were going to get the most out of Russ. It is no coincidence that Westbrook started playing arguably the best basketball of his career not long after Capela left and Covington arrived.
With Russ as the Robin to Harden’s Batman, the Rockets could not have afforded to limit Westbrook anymore than he already limited himself in the playoffs.
Next: The impact of small ball