Houston Rockets: After adding Westbrook, should the Rockets be the favorites?

NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Will Russell Westbrook be the piece to put the Houston Rockets over the top heading into the 2019-20 season?

The analytical approach headed by GM Daryl Morey has proved to be successful for the Houston Rockets. In the regular season. The postseason has proved to be a sticky point for the Rockets and their superstar, James Harden.

You first have to give credit where credit is due, the acquisition of Harden and his progression as the Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 to the MVP in 2018 has been stunning. A perennial MVP finalist who has been the face of the Houston Rockets for years, has become a stately name in the NBA record books.

The coaching of Mike D’Antoni has placed more responsibility into the hands of Harden who led the NBA this season in usage rate with a staggering 39 percent. Remember, this is a team that already had arguably the best point guard of his generation, Chris Paul. Harden scored 41.3 percent of the Rockets points this season, illustrating his vital importance to the success of the franchise.

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He averaged 36 points per game this season, the highest total a player has averaged since Michael Jordan in the 1986-87 season. Harden also scored a record-breaking 30 points for 32 games straight including a 61 point game against the New York Knicks.

Because of the pace of play being played at a higher rate in today’s game and considering the amount Harden has the ball in his hands and the amount of shots he takes, there are some who have downplayed the impact of his scoring exploits.

Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady have both stated that Harden’s style of play cannot win. We’ve seen the unselfishness and ball movement of the Golden State Warriors win three of the last five championships and reach all five at that.

Who else than Kobe Bryant, the 5-time NBA Champion, a man who did anything to win, to believe that Harden cannot win a title with the Rockets the way he is currently playing. However, as previously stated, Harden is playing the way D’Antoni envisions.

The Rockets frustratingly lost a Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last year and decided to run it back with the same group of guys. They decided to let go of the vital 3-and-D specialist Trevor Ariza after electing not to keep him.

Flare-ups involving Chris Paul and James Harden kept making news throughout the season and ended with a Game 6 loss to the Kevin Durant-less Warriors in the Western Conference second round.

The fit on-and-off the court was never a solid one and that came to a head when the Rockets traded Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two pick swaps for Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook and Harden who were former teammates at OKC are now reunited as former MVP’s looking to challenge the two LA teams for the crown of the Western Conference.

For all the analytics that Daryl Morey has brought to Houston with an emphasis on 3-pointers, free throws and layups as the most efficient ways of scoring, bringing in Westbrook who shot 29 percent from the 3-point line and 65 percent at the free throw line contradicts his entire philosophy.

Morey created the ‘True Shooting’ percentage which measures how efficiently a player shoots the ball. Two and three pointers and free throws is included in the percentage.

Harden shot 44 percent from the field, however his true shooting percentage was 61 percent mainly down to his penchant for free throws, averaging a career 87 percent in the 2018-19 season. Westbrook, on the other hand, shot 42 percent and amassed a career-low 50 percent true shooting percentage. Morey does have a tendency to acquire star players alongside James Harden irregardless of fit.

Cue Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Morey and D’Antoni are banking on the friendship and respect that exists between Harden and Westbrook to create success on the court.

However, two ball dominant players who have both been the face of a franchise are now supposed to be co-stars. It will be a difficult adjustment for both players but a required one if they want to be the cream of the crop in the West. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers got significantly better without mentioning shrewd moves by the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets.

Apart from Harden, the fit for Westbrook is clearly better than what he had in his last few seasons at OKC. At Houston, he will be surrounded by shooters allowing to rely on players knocking down shots and not taking ill-advised ones himself.

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The Warriors, the team that has haunted the Houston Rockets over the past five years has been silenced, for now. The signing of Westbrook must make the Rockets believe they can beat anybody in the West after being the only real competition the Warriors ever had in their five-year run to the Finals. Can Harden and Westbrook win a ring together, only this time, in Houston?