Basketball

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston Rockets sends ripple through NBA — reunites with James Harden

BY MARCH ARCHER
Contributor

Friday, July 19, 2019

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Just when we thought all the high-profile shakes-and-bakes of the NBA offseason were over, the Houston Rockets officially announced last Tuesday that they have acquired guard Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for guard Chris Paul, two future first-round picks (2024 and 2026) and other draft considerations.

Westbrook was the fourth overall pick by Oklahoma City in their first NBA Draft in 2008 (they were previously the Seattle SuperSonics from 1967–2008).

In 821 career games with 804 starts, he has averaged 23.0 points, 8.4 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 1.76 steals and, as a measure of his consistency, he finished last season with averages of 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals.

James Harden, who was traded to the Rockets in October 2012 from the Thunder after his first three NBA seasons, will reunite with Westbrook in an MVP backcourt (they last played together during the 2012 NBA Finals).

When last teammates, they complemented each other fairly well: Westbrook was a young star, prone to wild and reckless play.

Harden was a backup who provided steadiness. Both were very good, but neither was great. They went their separate ways, and both blossomed into elite NBA players.

Harden and Westbrook have both finished in the top-10 for MVP voting in each of the past five seasons, with both placing in the top-five in the same season three times over that span. Westbrook was voted league MVP in 2017 and Harden in 2018.

Over the past five seasons, Westbrook joined Harden and LeBron James as the only players to have averaged at least 25.0 points, 8.0 assists, and 6.0 rebounds. In addition to being a former MVP, Westbrook is an eight-time All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP, eight-time All-NBA selection (first team twice, second team five times, third team once), and he won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA in 2012. He has led the league in assists in each of the past two seasons and is a two-time scoring champion.

Westbrook is a triple-double machine and is tied for second all-time with Magic Johnson at 138 career triple-doubles, behind only Oscar Robertson (181). He is the only player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists in multiple seasons and leaves as Oklahoma City's all-time leader in points (18,859), assists (6,897), rebounds (5,760) and steals (1,442).

Westbrook is one of just 10 players in NBA history to record 15,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists with a single franchise. Seven of them are in the Hall of Fame; the other two are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Therefore, this move by the Thunder must undoubtedly be a ripple effect from the trade of Paul George from Oklahoma City to the Los Angeles Clippers last week and, if rebuilding is in the immediate plans for Oklahoma City, Chris Paul (at 34 years old) is not the answer. They will look to trade him at the best opportunity, so the end of that story is yet to be written.

The downside of this reunion for the Rockets is the dilemma of 'floor time' for their MVP point guards. Harden, 29, is still in his prime and Westbrook, 30, is expected to maintain his consistency.

Both are lead guards who like to have control of the ball but, while Harden is a better shooter, Westbrook can attack and scramble defences, making them vulnerable to mistakes. Additionally, Harden has shown very little pace in starting his moves. He often isolates until the shot clock gets low, thereby neutralising his teammates.

The minutes will be staggered as much as possible for their individually catered offense but, for a significant amount of time, they will have to share the court and the rest of the Rockets will have to adjust to the likely ebb and flow.

Then that's only offensively. The defensive issues are far worse.

Harden is an inferior defender at everything other than guarding post-ups. Westbrook is defensively unreliable, sometimes active and oftentimes reckless. The rest of the team may cover some of the defensive faux pas but that may be a big ask, especially with Eric Gordon playing in three-guard line-ups.

Houston, unquestionably, gets a significant talent boost with the replacement of Paul with Westbrook — He's younger, more durable and provides better options for play execution. The upgrade, on paper, is evident and the Rockets are betting on MVP-talent to get them over the hump and pave a path to NBA-glory.

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