It’s Not Russ’ Fault

The Houston Rockets fail at adding All-Stars. Dwight Howard turned out to be a disaster. Chris Paul wasn’t good for the James Harden ego. And now Russell Westbrook, Harden’s good friend, has many people talking mistake. Why? Westbrook is having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career playing sidekick to the greatest iso scorer in NBA history. He’s shooting his worst percentage in 10 years. Same with his 3-point ball which actually is worse than it appears considering that is what Morey ball is all about, three or layup. Westbrook’s rebounds are down -3.0 from last year. Understandable because of Clint Capela? Or, he doesn’t really fit the offense? Westbrook’s assists are down -3.6. His offensive and defensive rating are worse than when he was in OKC a year ago.  His PER has dropped but his usage rate has increased, a stat that is underwater.

Westbrook’s shotmaking is abysmal. 33% 3-10 feet. 36% 10-16 feet. 38% long twos. 23% 3-pointers, 16% in the 2nd quarter. He’s making 32% of his jumpers.  He’s terrible on the road, 19% from three, 40% overall with a +/- of -2.4 and an offensive rating of 99. (At home his offensive rating is 109).

The Rockets are giving up the most points for a team that is in playoff contention. Circle the players in and out, the defense doesn’t change. James Harden has to score early and often. Anything less than 114 points gets the Rockets an L. It’s not what the Rockets expected when they made the Chris Paul trade.

The Rockets are better this year than last. After 32 games last season, they were 17-15. They are 22-10 now. Westbrook, though a drain offensively, has sped up the tempo and James Harden is having one of the best seasons of his career. So what is all the trade Russell Westbrook about?

  1. Harden plays better without Westbrook than with Westbrook. As much as that is shade towards Westbrook, Harden deserves some blame. He’s the most effective without another All-Star. The Rockets will never win a title that way, until Harden learns how to effectively co-exist with other talent.
  2. Westbrook is failing at what the Rockets do best. It makes Daryl Morey nervous.

But….

Rumors are exactly that. Things to talk about but not based in fact. Not yet. Westbrook’s salary means a trading partner will be difficult. (He’s making $41 mil beginning in 2020 all the way through 2022 with a player option of $46 million).The Rockets would have to take a lot of players to make the money work and it’s hard to find a team interested. (Orlando perhaps. Evan Fourier and Aaron Gordon?) The question is not really who the Rockets could trade Westbrook for. It’s why would they want to?

Before the trade they knew Westbrook in Mike D’Antoni’s system would be a tough fit. He’s not a skilled jumpshot maker and is known for making bad decisions in pressure moments. But his athleticism and energy have infected the Rockets for the better. With Westbrook you just have to take the good with the bad. What you get that is special and what he takes away that makes you cover your eyes.

Morey loves superstars but it’s which superstars fit together that count. In the Houston system, Westbrook was always going to be an outlier, a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. He just doesn’t shoot well enough to manage the Rockets system of long jumpers. And so he is the fall guy when it isn’t really his fault. Blame Mike D’Antoni for not shaping the offense around what Russ can do and blame Daryl Morey for thinking Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are equal.

They are not.