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Rockets restart player previews: Russell Westbrook

How important is Brodie for the Rockets?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook

History: After Paul George requested a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers to join Kawhi Leonard in free agency, Westbrook followed suit by requesting a trade of his own. He wanted to join a contender and a familiar face. The Rockets checked off both of those boxes being one year removed from a Conference Finals appearance and rostering James Harden, Westbrook’s teammate from 2009-12 back in OKC, where they made a Finals together.

Westbrook was traded July 11, 2019 for Chris Paul, two first-round draft picks and two first-round pick swaps.

When the season began, it took Westbrook some time to acclimate towards Mike D’Antoni’s offense and to coexist with Harden.

Westbrook attempted more threes in the first half of the season, trying to adjust to the Rockets system despite not efficiently scoring from distance. This season, Westbrook is shooting just above 25% from three.

However, I think it would be unfair to use the team at the beginning of the season to determine how the rest of this restart will turn out.

With the subtraction of Clint Capela and the addition of Robert Covington, the Rockets catered their offense to fit Westbrook’s strengths — driving to the basket with an open paint.

In February, Westbrook’s usage rate climbed to a season-high 38% and his points per game average also jumped to its season-high with 33.4 PPG.

Here were his game stats after Robert Covington joined the lineup:

Basketball Reference

Russ never failed to score more than 20 in any of the 11 games since the trade and shot about 45% from the field all but once.

The system has been created for Westbrook to not only shine but to take control of the offense. Westbrook is not here to play second fiddle to Harden. It’s clear that this is a 50/50 partnership and one of the most dangerous dynamic duos in the league.

If the averages hold, the pair could be the first to average 60 points combined per game in nearly 60 years.

Outlook: Russell Westbrook announced he tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, and he is one of the two Rockets on the restart roster currently not with the team in the bubble. Once he recovers, he’ll join the team in the bubble, and then it’s a mad dash to the finish.

There are very few players I want more in my corner than Russell Westbrook for a mad dash. He is one of the fastest guys in the league and his role in the offense fits like a glove.

Note this game back in February against the Lakers, in which Russ scores 41 in a huge road win:

He can beat you in transition, he can beat you 1-on-1, he can cut to the basket, and he can beat you in the mid-range game. There are so many ways Brodie can beat you and that’s what makes him so dangerous.

Often times during this game, he’ll have a larger defender on him like Anthony Davis or Kyle Kuzma. They give him some room because they aren’t as quick as Russ, but that room gives him the window to get a shot up without much of a contest from the defender. And, when he has a guard on him like Rajon Rondo, he uses his strength to get to the bucket.

The bubble circumstances also really benefit Russ and a team like the Rockets because the team will be able to play with a much faster tempo than what we usually see in the playoffs.

One of the reasons the Rockets’ growth is stunted in the playoffs is because the team can’t flip the switch and commit to the half court game. The game takes this approach because the season is coming to an end and players are fatigued after playing for six months straight.

That isn’t the case with this season.

While I do think there will be a sense of slower playoff basketball once it comes in mid-August, it won’t be on the same level as before. Westbrook and the Rockets need to take advantage of this and force the tempo into their favor. It’s the one reason why the league still fears the Rockets as the current 6-seed.

The Rockets boast the second-highest scoring offense in the game behind the Milwaukee Bucks, and third-quickest offense behind Milwaukee and the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Rockets proved their commitment to small-ball by pandering to Russ’s strengths and playing the five-out system. By forcing teams to play the Rockets game, it takes other big teams like the Lakers and Nuggets out of their style of play. Simply put, it’s a battle of tempo.

That’s Russ’s job when he gets to Orlando. Control the tempo, push it as fast as the team can go, and force teams to play your game.

If the Rockets force teams to play small ball, the Rockets will win every time because no team does small ball better than the Pocket Rockets.