On Tuesday, the Rockets acquisition of Russell Westbrook became official, cementing the second blockbuster trade involving the Thunder this offseason. In return, the Thunder received Chris Paul, along with two protected first-round picks and the right to swap picks in 2021 and 2025. By dealing Paul George and Russell Westbrook in exchange for a load of draft picks, the Thunder have made it clear they are getting ready to rebuild. The Rockets, on the other hand, have added a dynamic talent in Westbrook, which should make for an interesting fit with James Harden in Houston. The two played together early in their careers in OKC, however, they were both very different players at that point. Westbrook was emerging as a young star, and Harden was flourishing in his role as the sixth man. Since that 2011-12 season, a lot has changed. Westbrook has established himself as the triple-double king, and Harden has proved himself to be the best offensive player in the NBA. Both have collected MVPs along the way, but both have yet to make the Finals since their 2012 loss to the Heat.
The pairing of Westbrook and Harden will definitely have some growing pains early on in the season. After all, they are two of the most ball-dominant players in the league. Last season, Harden led the league in isolations per game with 16.4 per game, more than any other TEAM in the NBA. The Thunder ranked second in that category, with Westbrook ranking third amongst players. Harden had one of the greatest offensive seasons in league history last year, posting the second-largest usage rating in NBA history (40.5). The only other player to post a higher usage rating is Westbrook during his 2016-17 MVP campaign (41.7). If the Rockets are going to make this work, both Westbrook and Harden are going to have to make sacrifices, especially Westbrook. Russ is a clear upgrade over the aging Chris Paul, however, his skill set does not fit well with Mike D’Antoni’s system. Houston has ranked first in three-point attempts per game in four of the last five seasons, with a lot of these attempts coming off of drive and kicks from Harden. Westbrook is coming off his worst shooting season since becoming an All-Star in 2011, shooting a miserable 29% from three and 31.9% on catch and shoot threes. This is something he will need to improve on if this pairing is going to work.
Harden and Westbrook are not an ideal fit, but that does not mean they can’t be productive together. The two have experience playing with each other and are very good friends off the court. Although Russ is not a great shooter, he will be surrounded by teammates who can all shoot, unlike some of his former teammates in Oklahoma City. The addition of Russ gives the Rockets another guy who can create his own shot and get other players good looks. Although he’s not a great fit, he should make the Rockets better and put them in championship contention this upcoming season.