Since acquiring Russell Westbrook in a deal for Chris Paul, everyone has taken the time to share their thoughts on the Houston Rockets’ new dynamic duo. While many have seen the pairing of Westbrook and James Harden as a disaster waiting to happen, others have been optimistic about the success the Rockets can have next season.
Among the few basketball analysts who have high expectations for the Rockets is 12-time NBA All-Star and former Finals MVP (1990), Isiah Thomas.
On Monday, the basketball Hall-of-Famer appeared on Fox Sports morning show, First Things First, where he expressed his opinions about the Rockets’ new twosome. In addition to stating how the two will lead the Rockets to success, Thomas went as far as to compare Harden and Westbrook to the modern-day Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier.
“I think these two will be the modern-day Frazier and Monroe. When Earl Monroe was getting talked about being traded to the New York Knicks, there were some questions can Frazier and Monroe work out. Well, we saw what they were able to do together. I look at Westbrook, and I look at Harden, right now, they are the modern-day Frazier and Monroe in terms of the way they play.”
Although Thomas is not the first analyst who believes the pairing will work, comparing Harden and Westbrook to one of the best backcourt tandems in league history may be their highest praise to date.
After Monroe was traded to the New York Knicks in 1971, the pairing of Frazier and Monroe were met with the same criticism the Rockets are facing today. At the time of the trade, both were high profile players at the top of their game, and many questioned how the two All-Stars with similar skills could share one ball to win a title.
Similar to Harden, Frazier was the face of the Knicks, as he established himself as one of the top point guards in the league. He was a three-time All-Star, averaging 16.0 points and 7.0 assists, but most importantly, led New York to their first championship in franchise history in 1970.
Monroe was comparable to Westbrook as a phenomenal individual player who recorded great numbers, but his style of play never resulted in the success of the team. As a member of the Baltimore Bullets, Monroe became an NBA All-Star, averaging 23.7 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.7 rebounds through his first five seasons in the league.
While it did take some time for the two to coexist on the court, the Monroe-Frazier pairing brought success to New York that had been unparalleled. The two Hall-of-Famers led the Knicks to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and captured a title together as a duo in 1973.
The tandem would go on to spend six seasons together, as they established themselves as one of the greatest backcourts in league history, featuring two Hall-of-Famers and NBA 50th Anniversary Team members.
Even though the Monroe-Frazier twosome may not be the Rockets’ golden standard, the legendary Knicks backcourt should be the fundamental model of success for James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Thomas, a guy who spent the majority of his career playing in one of the best backcourts in NBA history alongside Joe Dumars in Detroit, ended his interview predicting the Rockets as his early favorites to win the Western Conference next season. Let’s hope he is correct on all counts.