Russell Westbrook has changed James Harden and the Rockets. Here’s how. #NBA #Westbrook #Harden
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First and foremost, Russell Westbrook has transformed the Rockets style of play. The Rockets were a half-court team. James Harden likes to dribble the ball at the top of the 3 point line, getting a rhythm and putting the defender to sleep. What that means is that with Harden leading the offense, the Rockets were a slow team that didn’t really push the fastbreak offense. They were ranked 19th in fastbreak offense. Well Westbrook has changed that. Westbrook is a great rebounder, period, and so once he grabs that rebound, he’s pushing the pace before the defense can set up. It’s leading to easy buckets for him, but also for his teammates. Now the Rockets are 5th in fast break offense. The Rockets were also 27th in fastbreak offense efficiency last year. This year, they have already moved up to 12th this season. This leads to more fastbreaks and might help solve a problem the Rockets have had for years which I will get into.
He’s also just taking shots earlier in the shot clock. Nothing against Harden, his offense is a debate for another day, but a lot of times, the Rockets would take a shot at the end of the shot clock if they didn’t get an immediate three simply because it would be a Harden isolation. Remember James Harden has set a historic high in iso frequency. And this season, Harden’s iso frequency has dropped from 48.7% to 38.6% to make room for Westbrook’s touches. And Westbrook is just going earlier in the shot clock. A lot of times he’s just attacking a half-court defense with 20 seconds left in the shot clock. Last year, the Rockets took 31.7% of their shots before 15 seconds. This year, the Rockets are shooting 44% of their shots before 15 seconds.
Russ is also doing what we thought he could do and that is take some pressure off of Harden to not be responsible for everything in the offense. The dynamic duo of Russ and Harden is continuing to evolve and so this isn’t always perfect. Especially without Eric Gordon and Daniel House, the shooting options on the Rockets at times became less with the Clippers. Westbrook still is shooting horribly from 3. He’s shooting 23% from 3 shooting 5.8 3s a game. So to take the most advantage out of those double teams, Westbrook would have to make 3s consistently. This isn’t much of a problem when the Rockets have two knockdown shooters with Westbrook and Harden.
Westbrook is doing all the little things that this team needs. Because Westbrook is being used significantly less than before, but one of the best qualities Westbrook has is his relentless attitude. So he’s been finding ways to contribute through offensive rebounding at the right time. And then there’s his defense. Westbrook is an energetic defender but not always the best defender. At times, that leads to some important defensive stops. At other times, he gambles and misses opportunities. His energy itself is refreshing to a team that could more energy. That leads to hustle plays, diving for loose balls, and getting deflections.
Still, Westbrook is perfect for running the ball dominant offense the Rockets are used to running when James Harden goes to the bench. And that’s important because for so many years in the past, it has looked like Harden runs out of gas in the playoffs and that he can’t physically keep carrying the team like he has done for years. Harden’s style of play demands a lot out of him, the constant isos, playmaking for his teammates, all the defensive focus, which is why so many believe that this way is not the way to win a championship.
We haven’t seen Westbrook really be the best man on a team that goes deep in the playoffs. He hasn’t gotten out of the first round since Durant left. Dame made sure of that. Harden has lost to the Warriors 4 of the past 5 years. His two stains on his resume have been the loss against the Spurs in Game 6 especially without Kawhi and then not taking advantage of the Warriors losing Durant. But Westbrook is no longer the main man, nor is he holding the ball the most. Harden has already lowered his isolations. The big question is what they will do in the playoffs. That’s what everyone is waiting for, but we really are seeing adjustments and changes. Harden might be averaging more points, but his usage has dropped by 2%. Westbrook has dramatically given up the ball and just do whatever he can do within the confines of the offense. This duo is no where near being a finished product because they have to keep facing different defenses. This is just exciting to see duos meshing. But what do you think? How far can the Rockets go? Will Harden win MVP?