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The Russell Westbrook Dilemma

When Rockets GM Daryl Morey decided to trade Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, there were two obvious concerns: 

  1. Could Houston build a good enough defense with a poor defensive backcourt?
  2. Could the Rockets offense remain as efficient with defenders sagging off Westbrook?

After losing in their home opener to the Milwaukee Bucks, it appears those concerns are legitimate. In the final 5 minutes of a tight game, there were three possessions where Westbrook’s presence hurt Houston’s chances to win the game. 

On the first possession, James Harden gets doubled by none other than Westbrook’s man, leading to this:

On the very next offensive possession, Wes Matthews leaves Westbrook in the corner to prevent the lob:

As long as Westbrook settles for those shots and shoots them at subpar percentages, this is going to be an ongoing issue. It probably won’t matter very often during the regular season, but the Bucks showed how the best teams are going to defend the Rockets come postseason. 

Despite the offensive struggles of Harden and Westbrook, it was the team’s defense that really let them down, especially in the second half. On a key defensive possession with Houston down by 3, Russ had a mental lapse that led to a wide open Matthews three:

It’s fair to question whether Russell Westbrook is actually an upgrade over Chris Paul. CP3 isn’t going to grab 16 rebounds or have highlights like this:

But defenders aren’t just going to leave Paul, who is a career 37 percent three-point shooter, and he’s not likely to get beat on simple back cuts. 

We won’t know until May or June if this Harden-Westbrook experiment will work, and whether or not Russ really does improve this team’s ceiling. However, now that we’ve seen them in action against a legitimate title contender in Milwaukee, color me skeptical.

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