How Does Russell Westbrook Fit Into The Rockets’ Math Equation?

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Russell Westbrook is a Houston Rocket.

It’s a pretty odd sentence, all things considered. If anyone was going to stick with one team and follow the Dirk Nowitzki blueprint, it was going to be Westbrook. But even he saw the writing on the wall once Paul George was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for an historic haul of draft picks. Westbrook understandably prioritized a win-now opportunity over a rebuild. The Thunder obliged, and here we are: looking at one of the most intriguing star duos in recent memory.

If styles make fights, fits make basketball teams. Within that lens, it’s easy to scratch your head at the Rockets’ decision to trade for Westbrook. He’s a clear talent upgrade over Chris Paul at this stage of their respective careers, but seems to go against virtually everything the Rockets stand for. Efficiency is the name of the game in Houston, and that concept seems foreign to Westbrook.

The Rockets take a ton of threes; Westbrook bricks nearly every one he tosses up. With Harden at the helm, shooters (and movers) are needed to fully optimize his isolation exploits. Not only is Westbrook a non-threat as a shooter, he doesn’t occupy the defense with timely cuts either. Harden is notorious for being disengaged without the ball, but he at least can make up for that in part by being a plus-shooter.

For many, that reality is enough to brush off the idea of this being an ideal pairing. The Rockets are the most meticulous, math-iest franchise in the league. Westbrook marches to the beat of his own drum. One may say he does what he wants. But maybe that’s the potential beauty of this pairing. The unpredictability of Westbrook mostly goes against the Rockets’ grain, but it may add much-needed versatility to their attack.

Shifting Gears

When you think of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, you typically think of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. They played with an unthinkable (at the time) pace, shot a ton of threes, and racked up buckets in bunches. The 2018-19 Rockets didn’t look like a D’Antoni team, even though they searched for the same type of shots. The Rockets ranked…

…22nd in overall seconds per possession (14.7)
…27th in seconds per possession following a missed shot (11.8)
…dead last in seconds per possession following a turnover (9.8)