Article written by Michael Knight (@TheKnight97)
Another postseason has ended for the Houston Rockets. Once again, they finish the year in disappointing fashion. This time around, they lost in five games to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers after winning the first one pretty decidedly.
There’s a ton to get into about this series that I’m sure we will cover here at Clutch City Control Room, but one of the biggest discussion topics from this season is the play of Russell Westbrook and his fit with the team, and James Harden, moving forward. Let’s take a look at his roller coaster of a year and what the Rockets may do in the offseason.
Quick Look at Russ’s Season
What an odd first season for Russell Westbrook in Rockets’ red. The first 34 games of the season, he certainly was contributing to wins, but not as much as he should have been. He averaged 24.8 points per game to go along with 6.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists on under 43% shooting and was hoisting up five threes a game at a 23.6% clip. Yikes. The energy he brought to the court was unquestionable, though, even when some of his decision-making was certainly the opposite.
Something flipped early in the new year. Westbrook really learned how to be effective in the system of the Rockets, and was arguably their best player until the NBA shut down due to COVID-19. In 19 games from Jan. 18 on, he averaged 32.3 points a night with 8.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists. The biggest change was his efficiency, which was a night and day difference. He drove more and drove well, shooting 53.7% from the field. The best part was his realization that chucking up threes is not an effective strategy. Russ ended up taking just under two shots from deep a game, pretty much shooting them only when he was wide-open. LeBron James robbed him of the February Player of the Month award.
Unfortunately, Russ dealt with some issues the rest of the season. Before heading to the Orlando bubble, he got COVID-19 and was unable to work out for weeks. When he finally got some game time, he injured his quad. He noticeably was a different player in the postseason, and it was weird to see. He couldn’t punish the opposition when James Harden was double-teamed and he reverted back to shooting lots of threes. His efficiency was way down in a year where he had the best field goal percentage of his career.
It was a tough and confusing finish to the season. In order to get past the great teams of the West, the Rockets needed the Russell Westbrook that was so effective pre-bubble. It’s possibly a different story without the roadblocks that Russ went through to end the year. Still, he wasn’t good in the playoffs and it really hurt the team. He could hardly get to the rim and was not effective when he did get there. His energy was there, but his ability to make teams pay for doubling James vanished.
Now, the Rockets are in a weird place and no one really knows what is going to happen.
Move on from Russ or give him another year?
What are the options for the Rockets with Russell Westbrook? Obviously, the only two choices are looking to trade Westbrook one year removed from sending lots of assets to Oklahoma City for him or giving him another chance next to James Harden.
Trading Westbrook is a popular opinion on Twitter right now, but you have to question how realistic that would be. Russ is owed over $132 million over the next three years and he will be in his mid-30s by the end of his contract. He’s still extremely athletic and proved himself early in 2020 to be able to play at a superstar level, but who knows how he’ll look next year and in future seasons?
Still, there could be a team that sees how effective he was for a couple of months this year and is willing to make a deal with Houston. There will be plenty of people online playing around with the trade machine.
The more realistic, though unpopular, option is that the Rockets stick with Russ for at least one more year. Like I said earlier, the Rockets gave up lots of assets for him last summer and throwing in the towel this early would be a tough pill to swallow, especially with the success they found when both Harden and Russ hit their groove. I could definitely see the Rockets retooling the rest of their roster to try to find fits around the two and giving it another go. Westbrook will have the offseason to completely heal and re-find his game. Hopefully, he can be back to his most effective self.
Personally, I’m kind of feeling a little mixture of both of these options. I think the Rockets should definitely explore their options with Russell Westbrook and see if they get any valuable offers. Ultimately, though, I don’t think there will be much out there that makes sense for Houston, so they likely will give Harden/Russ another go. And I pray that he looks better next postseason than he did in this one.
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