This offseason, the Houston Rockets traded Chris Paul to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook. While a goal to position Houston to win the 2019–20 NBA Championship, the Rockets’ success depends on Westbrook fitting in with the team, especially James Harden.
In the past, Westbrook has been stubborn and resistant to change, but to create winning chemistry, he’ll need to adjust four things.
1. Russell Westbrook needs to stop being emotional and impulsive
In Oklahoma City, Westbrook played with intensity, but he was reckless, too. He didn’t always make the best decisions, especially late in the game.
According to former teammate Kendrick Perkins, Westbrook would sometimes take over. He told The Undefeated, “Either you go match his intensity or you gonna get left behind. And that’s when you see the Westbrook of old who used to try to take over games.”
Another former teammate, Earl Watson, thinks Westbrook can improve his late-game decisions. “He has the ability to grow, to get better and adapt, to continue to evolve mentally. Now it’s time for him to build on the levels of the game within the game.”
2. He must improve his three-point shooting
The Rockets take the most three-point shots and the fewest midrange shots of any NBA team. Of players with at least 2,500 three-point attempts, Westbrook is the worst ever. Last season, the Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic called him “Westbrick” and even wore a “Got Bricks?” t-shirt to a playoff game. In fact, Westbrook is known for his midrange shot, which he calls the “cotton shot.” Not a good sign for his future in Houston.
At media day, Westbrook explained that he’s open to change. He said, “The organization, the people here, the No. 1 thing they’ve always told me was, ‘Just be myself.’ They don’t want me to change who I am, because that’s the reason why they brought me here.
3. Westbrook needs to work on his defense
Westbrook has high steal numbers, but he doesn’t focus much on defense. He’s often a bit out of position and doesn’t always seem to want to move when he doesn’t have the ball. Since defense isn’t Harden’s strongest skill either, there’s room for Westbrook to step up.
4. Being the one and only star
Both Westbrook and Harden are used to dominating the ball. They keep it unless it’s absolutely necessary to pass. But Westbrook says he doesn’t have to dominate the game or score the most points, according to QG. “I don’t really care about [scoring], as long as we win. That’s the most important part. If James has it going, I’ll sit there and watch.”
The two NBA stars have plenty of history to build chemistry on. They’ve been friends since they were kids. They were also teammates for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
Fortunately, head coach Mike D’Antoni is happy to utilize his players as they are. He told Sports Illustrated, “Who am I to tell Russ to change or tell James to change? They’re MVPs … So we try to make them as efficient as we can, try to nudge them in the areas we think we can improve in.”