Houston Rockets: Why the team should target Kevin Love via trade

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets should pursue a Kevin Love trade as he is the only relatively affordable star who would be considered an upgrade over Russell Westbrook

There is a growing sentiment around the league that Kevin Love‘s contract is depressing his value on the trade market. Jason Lloyd of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote an article last month stating that teams are asking the Cleveland Cavaliers to attach a first-round pick in a potential Love trade.

Love’s depressing value should make him appealing to the Houston Rockets as he is the only relatively affordable star who would be considered an upgrade over Russell Westbrook. This is because Houston is running a heavy isolation offense as they are currently leading the league in the category averaging 22.8 per game.

James Harden is running 64 percent of those isolation possessions. A James Harden isolation requires three teammates to stand behind the arc in the role of 3-point shooters. The last teammate usually stands near the dunker spot to be in a position to grab the offensive rebound in case James doesn’t make the first shot attempt.

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Houston’s isolation alignment is meant to increase the likelihood that they get open looks throughout the game. For example, if the opponent decides to collapse on James Harden, he can pass it to the perimeter for an open 3-pointer.

On the other hand, if defenders stay close to their defensive assignments, James has to create a small amount of separation from his defender to get the shot off.

A prime example of this can be found midway through the third quarter of a Houston Rockets road game against the New Orleans Pelicans last season. James Harden dribbled the basketball up the right-wing until he got to the 3-point line. Upon arriving at the 3-point line, he saw that Kenrich Williams was tightly guarding him to get him off the line.

Consequently, Harden decided to blow by him and attack the basket because he knew Williams didn’t have the speed to stay in front of him. Harden had a clear path to the bucket until he approached the restricted area because Julius Randle rotated over to prevent him from getting an easy layup.

When Randle made contact with him, Harden immediately attempted a shot in hopes of getting a 3-point play. James failed to get the 3-point play as the referee didn’t call a foul, but he did get two points because the shot went in.

The defense couldn’t afford to send help earlier because James was sharing the court with Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker. All of these players have a career 3-point percentage of above 36 percent. Therefore, if one of their defenders rotated over to help Kenrich, James could pass it to the open man for a 3.

On the other hand, if Randle helped earlier, Harden could throw a lob to Clint Capela for a dunk.

Unfortunately, Harden hasn’t been able to get the same amount of open looks this season because Russell Westbrook has replaced Chris Paul in the role of a 3-point shooter. Russell Westbrook is currently attempting 4.9 3’s per game. He has only converted 23.1 of those attempts.

His inability to make threes has led opponents to leave him wide open when he is in the role of 3-point as 100 percent of his attempts have been uncontested. This strategy means that opponents can use Westbrook’s defender to double team or trap Harden.

A prime example of this was found midway through the first quarter during the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors. Russell Westbrook’s defender D’Angelo Russell came over to help Glenn Robinson III trap, James Harden. James immediately passed the basketball to Westbrook, who didn’t take the low percentage shot.

These situations have forced Harden to take more contested shots because he doesn’t have confidence in Westbrook as a 3-point shooter. James is currently attempting 14.8 contested field goal attempts per game through the first 33 games of this season. This is an increase of 2.2 contested shot attempts per game from the first 33 games of last season.

Houston is aware of the fit issues between Harden and Westbrook as The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo has stated that general manager Daryl Morey is exploring the possibility of trading Westbrook. If the Rockets were to trade Westbrook, they need to acquire a player who can be a threat to the role shooter.

For instance, Kevin Love is currently shooting 37 percent from behind the arc on 6.3 attempts per game. Love’s above-average shooting forces defenders to stay closer to him as only 84.1 percent of his attempts have been uncontested. Consequently, the presence of Love would restore the integrity of Houston’s isolation alignment.

A potential solution that could kill two birds with one stone for the team is a three-team trade with Cleveland and the Miami Heat. For example, Westbrook, Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Clark go to Miami. On the other hand, Love, Ante Žižić and Alfonzo McKinnie go to Houston.

Lastly, Cleveland gets Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson. This potential trade satisfies all parties involved as Miami gets the second star it is searching for without having to give up multiple young assets. (How Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook would fit as a duo).

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Houston gets a star who is a better complement to James Harden as he can thrive in the role of a shooter and Cleveland gets a young player plus salary relief for their depreciating asset. In conclusion, Kevin Love’s shooting ability makes him an ideal fit alongside Harden which by extension raises the ceiling of the Houston Rockets for this season and beyond.