The on-court problems for the Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets finished with the eighth-best record in the league last season. For most franchises, this would be welcome news, but for a team that was a game away from the Finals only a few seasons ago, it feels like diminishing returns. Can the Rockets turn it around on the court in 2020-21 and keep Westbrook and Harden in town?
The Rockets’ 2019-20 season was defined by microball. Their bold plan to abandon a traditional center and stretch teams across the perimeter with shooting made the Rockets must-watch television. The experiment had an equal number of proponents as detractors but after a second-round playoff exit, the doubters felt vindicated.
However, microball unlocked the best version of Russell Westbrook in Houston. If the goal was to get Westbrook going then microball was a rousing success. The real problem was that microball didn’t make the Houston Rockets a better team and the reason was quite simple. Microball made Westbrook the focal point of the offense but to do so it shrank James Harden’s role.
Harden is a better player than Westbrook and the offense was at its best when it ran through him. What the Rockets learned is that Westbrook’s style of play is predicated on him dominating the ball. Westbrook simply can’t be at his best in an offense dominated by James Harden and the Rockets can’t be at their best without James Harden controlling the offense.
The Rockets’ on-court future is in a precarious situation. To reach their ceiling they need an offense dominated by Harden that also gets the best out of Westbrook. Unfortunately, Westbrook seems to be at his best when he is the offensive focal point. It’s not that the Rockets can’t rack up points but to reach a championship level they’ll need an offense that can have both Westbrook and Harden at peak capacity.
An offense of Westbrook and Harden taking turns hasn’t been effective enough to overcome the West’s elite. The Rockets’ only hope is that Stephen Silas, in his first go-around as a head coach, can conjure an offense that’s able to do just that. If not, the noise around a trade of Westbrook will only grow.
Next: The Westbrook trade rumors