The Rockets have made the playoffs eight straight years now, with only two Conference Finals appearances to show for it. There’s been so many questions recently about what the Rockets should do next, but what needs to be talked about are the individual players on that team.
More specifically, Russell Westbrook
He hasn’t reached the conference finals for four straight years now, and being 31 years old, the countdown on his stardom is closer to running out than we think. Coming off his first season with Houston, averaging 27-8-7, Westbrook earned himself an All-NBA third team selection. But the numbers are truly deceiving.
Ever since his peak 3-point shooting season in the 2016-17 season, he has progressively shot a lower percentage every year. In a constantly evolving NBA, where shooting is not only important, but essential, Westbrook has only been getting worse. He shot just under 26% from three this past season while taking almost 4 a game.
What made this season a failure for Westbrook and the Rockets is the fact that they had two ball-dominant guards on their team. Not just any regular guards, but two superstar guards that need the ball in their hand. This doesn’t allow for the team’s full effectiveness when both of them are on the court and that was evident in Russ’ assist numbers.
After averaging over 10 assists a game for the previous four seasons, that number dropped to seven, the lowest since his 2013-14 season.
The fit alongside James Harden just wasn’t there. If they want to make it work, Westbrook is going to have to learn to be effective off the ball on offense. In a lot of the Thunder and Rockets highlights when Russ isn’t the main ball handler, he’s just standing in the corner three point spot, where he isn’t effective at all.
Obviously, that’s partly because of the offensive schemes developed by his coaches over the years, but it’s useless for him to be doing nothing in the halfcourt offense. He needs to be setting more off ball screens and using his athleticism to his advantage by doing backdoor cuts.
That’s why this season was such a failure for the Rockets, because Russell Westbrook wasn’t the main ball handler at all times.
If he has the ball in his hands on offense, he’s an extremely effective player, as seen by the numbers he put up in the seasons with the Thunder. Westbrook is simply a magnet for defenders. When he has the ball in his hands, he can blow by his man with his speed and defenders are forced to help. He draws an insane amount of doubles off a screen which opens up shooters. But when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, the defense doesn’t have to worry about him.
One big area of his game he needs to improve on is his shooting. Shooting 26% from three is just not acceptable. What’s even worse is that he’s shooting under 16% on catch and shoot threes.
He needs to learn to adapt to his situation, similarly to Carmelo Anthony.
In New York, Melo had the ball in his hands every time they were on offense. Now in Portland, his isolation numbers have gone down, and he’s shooting off the catch a lot more. This is exactly what Russ needs to do. When the ball is in his hands, he can go to work, drive and kick, pull up from mid or three, dunk the ball, whatever he wants to do. But when he’s off the ball, he needs to be setting screens, cutting, and effectively shooting off a catch and shoot.
Another big problem with Westbrook is his contact situation.
If he doesn’t change / improve the way he plays, the Rockets will be paying him $41 million next year to brick threes. Being paid that kind of money, he definitely should be the main ball handler on a team.
By no means is Westbrook a bad player, he’s easily still top-20 in the league, it’s just that his skill set doesn’t translate to winning. And he’ll continue to lose in the playoffs, unless he adapts to his situation.
Photo: The SportsRush