Russell Westbrook James Harden Vol. 2: Instant Trade Reaction

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Westbrook
Michael Wyke/Associated Press

In case you haven’t realized it has been a summer of facial reconstruction for the NBA’s landscape. That continued today with another Woj bomb announcing that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will now be teaming up in exchange for Chris Paul’s dignity.

Daryl Morey has a well-known affinity for pursuing talent and certainly got better in that department by adding a stat-producing machine in Westbrook, who will be looking to continue to compete while the Thunder continue to stuff their war chest for the future.

Houston will be looking to re-tool and make things work by reuniting former teammates Westbrook and James Harden after Chris Paul’s age and friction with Harden saw the team take a half-step back last season after nearly making the Finals the year before.

Here are some quick initial thoughts after the league’s latest big move.

The Obvious. How does it Work In Houston?

Houston is known for being particularly numbers and analytics-driven. That is why Harden, one of the most efficient high-usage players in league history, is perfect to lead their bombs-away fast-paced offense.

Westbrook
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Those reasons are why this move was mildly surprising to me. Westbrook happens to be one of the least efficient high-usage players in league history and his jump shot seems to get worse by the second.

Westbrook was his usual high-production self last season, averaging 22.9 points 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists per game. Those numbers wilt in the light a little when you look at the 29% mark from 3 point range combined with a puzzling career-high 5.6 3 point attempts per game. Westbrook is always the hammer and never the chisel. Either his playing style — or Mike D’Antoni’s system — will have to change in order to accomodate Westbrook’s strengths and weaknesses.

This is not a question of talent. It is going to be a question of fit. We have not seen Russell Westbrook play much off the ball at all. Yet we know that Harden had an MVP-level year and will need massive touches to duplicate last season’s success. Those who hated watching Houston’s style of play last year are really going to be in for it now.

Chris Paul’s Fate

I can’t believe that Chris Paul is at the point in his career where a team has to give up four years of draft rights just to get his contract off of their books.

The initial swirling thoughts were that maybe OKC would continue to flip assets and move Paul for more draft pieces, but now sources are saying otherwise.

All of that sounds nice, but Paul is 34 years old and rapidly declining. The Thunder will sell it as Paul playing elder statesman and grooming a young talented core. I just have to wonder if there is enough gas left in his tank for him to remain valuable long enough to see such plans come to pass.

Perhaps Paul is destined to rot away in OKC, a victim of the massive contract he forced Houston to ink for him. Or maybe around the trade deadline a pseudo-contender takes a chance for a playoff push.

If the Thunder are able to move him, a pairing with Jimmy Butler in Miami would make some sense.

Paul is a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best five point guards to ever play the game. It is hard to imagine him being patient as the playoff success that has eluded him his entire career seems even further away today.

The State of Both Teams Post-Trade

The statistical reasons why Russell Westbrook will not work in Houston will be well documented over the next few days and rightfully so. He is a terrible shooter. However, Let’s not ignore that upgrades DID happen here.

Russell Westbrook is undoubtedly a better basketball player right now than Chris Paul. He is not the same level of shooter but he is bigger and more athletic which makes him more offensively dynamic as a result. Houston still lacks wing defenders and will need to find a way to defend the teams that play in the Staples Center, but the offensive potential for Russell Westbrook and James Harden is through the roof when you consider the playmaking ability of both former MVPs.

The Rockets will ideally be more offensively balanced with Westbrook enjoying more offensive talent and shooting around him than he’s had in years (excluding Paul George). The ceiling for the Rockets is significantly higher since Westbrook will be more of a threat to penetrate and break down his man off the dribble. This should create spot-up opportunities for Houston’s shooters and plenty of lobs for Clint Capela.

The Thunder are sitting fat and likely still looking to move other members of their former core to new destinations. Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson are all potentially valuable in the right situation and should each get interest from teams around the league looking to pad their depth. They had to absorb Paul’s contract, but it is actually one-year shorter than Westbrook’s and came with another bundle of picks. Oklahoma City now has 15 first round draft picks between 2020 and 2016. No first rounder is a sure thing but that is a ton of chances to strike gold.

 

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