The Houston Rockets Take a Risk With Westbrook and Harden

After a blockbuster trade that sent Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook will now join his former teammate James Harden in Houston. The two will attempt to bring the NBA championship back to the Houston Rockets, who won two in the ’90s.

While Westbrook is one of the most talented players in the league, Houston’s trade for him represents a calculated risk due to the fact that they already have Harden. 

James Harden’s playing style

Since being traded to Houston in 2012, Harden has been one of the league’s best offensive weapons. Take a look at some of his career achievements to put his performance in perspective: 

  • 24.3 points per game
  • .443 field goal percentage
  • 6.2 assists per game 
  • 2018 NBA MVP
  • Seven All-Star appearances
  • Two-time scoring champion
  • Six-time All-NBA

Harden is known for scoring a lot in isolation and doing it well. According to Harden, he’s able to succeed in creating his own shot because he doesn’t need much space in which to do it

Russell Westbrook’s playing style

Westbrook’s style is pretty simple: fill up the stat sheet at a frenetic pace that opposing defenses have a hard time keeping up with. He’s averaged a triple-double for the past three seasons. Here’s what he’s been able to do during his career thus far: 

  • 23 points per game
  • .434 field goal percentage
  • 8.4 assists per game
  • 2017 NBA MVP
  • Eight All-Star appearances
  • Two-time scoring champion
  • Eight-time All-NBA

Westbrook has also attempted 18.6 field goals per game over his career to Harden’s 16.2. That’s a lot of shots for two players to take during each game, and combining the totals may not mesh so well. 

Why Westbrook and Harden playing together represents a risk for the Houston Rockets

Based on the numbers alone, both players are elite superstars that can dominate any game they’re in. 

The problem is that on the teams they’ve played with, they’ve served in similar roles. Both are ball-dominant point guards. Both run a lot of isolation plays to take their defender off the dribble. They’re both able to do this to devastating effect, but they also haven’t had another teammate as adept at them at doing it. 

While it’s true that the two were able to coexist stylistically when Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year in 2012, the truth is that Harden’s a much different, and better, player than he was back then. His game has evolved to make him one of the greatest one-on-one offensive players in NBA history. 

Westbrook is also a different player. At 30 years old, he’s still got great athleticism and can score at will. But he is on the decline, even if that decline isn’t very steep. He’s also on a prohibitive contract – with five years remaining and over $200 million owed to the star guard, he has an almost untradeable contract if things begin to go sour. 

The other elephant in the room making this a big risk is that Harden has spent the last few seasons playing with another ball-dominant point guard in Chris Paul. That clearly didn’t work.

Paul and Harden had some pretty loud disagreements with each other. Harden and Westbrook possess a better rapport off-the-court, but that doesn’t mean their games will sync up as well. The NBA regular season and the postseason are a lot different than an All-Star Game. 

Overall Harden and Westbrook in the same backcourt is the type of partnership fans usually only dream about. How it plays out in reality – and whether it more closely resembles a nightmare – will only be revealed once the season tips off.