This offseason was one of the craziest on record in terms of sheer player movement. More than ever before, players are able to use their leverage and their influence to secure both the teammates they want to play alongside and the destinations where they want to do so.
But this particular free agency period signaled another notable trend around the league. It appears we’ve left behind the era of the Big 3 and reverted back to a time when dynamic duos ruled the NBA, with no shortage of pairings that will make a significant impact on the coming season.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook are definitely in that conversation, although there’s plenty of debate about where they belong in the hierarchy due to legitimate concerns about their on-court chemistry. At his introductory press conference in Houston on Friday morning, Westbrook made clear that he’s willing to defer to Harden and play off the ball more, but questions remain as to where exactly Westbrook fits in the D’Antoni doctrine.
The former league MVP, of course, doesn’t anticipate any issues in this department. Via Royce Young of ESPN:
“I’ll fit right in, personally,” Westbrook said. “Floor spread, it gives me the opportunity to attack, penetrate, kick. Defensively, it’ll give me an opportunity to switch and guard and rebound at a high level. Push the break, get us out on the break. A lot of different things.
“I think the style of play is great, something I’m looking forward to, just getting out in space in the open floor, shooters all around and playing that way.”
In theory, it sounds great. In a perfect world, D’Antoni will be able to maximize everything that makes Westbrook such a holy terror on the basketball court, while mitigating the more maddening aspects of his game. There are just a few foreseeable problems: Westbrook has one of the highest usage rates in the league — neck and neck with Harden — and playing off the ball will clearly reduce his opportunities to attack both on the break and in half-court sets. Ideally, he’ll have to evolve into more of a slasher out on the wing.
He’s also shot under 30 percent from three-point range the past two seasons, which will do a number on the Rockets’ spacing and Harden’s ability to operate in isolation. Speaking of which, Houston has increasingly relied on Harden’s ability to beat his defender off the dribble and collapse opposing defenses. One of the biggest unknowns is just how much patience Westbrook will have watching Harden play one-on-one basketball.