Over the next several weeks, we’re going to be “scouting the enemy,” as we’ll be covering the outlook for the 29 other teams in the league ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
Former Grizzlies: Ben McLemore
Offseason in Review
Russell Westbrook was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to Houston for Chris Paul, a Swap 2021 first round pick, a conditional 2024 first round pick, a Swap 2025 first round pick, a 2026 conditional first round pick and cash.
It was time for Chris Paul and James Harden to split. There were rumors of dysfunction between the two superstars, like this spat — from an episode of Brian Windhorst’s podcast:
“I did hear this story about that Warriors series. Chris and James got into it on the court, and it was just over a schematic thing where it was a spacing issue. Chris was trying to post up, and he was standing too close to James, and it was allowing too easy of a double team, and Chris barked at James.
“And James turned to him — this was described to me by another player — and he said, ‘with you, it’s always effing something.’”
The issue for the Rockets wasn't choosing which one of the players to trade, as it was clear that James Harden was the face of the franchise. The issue was finding another franchise willing to take on the monstrous contract of an aging player with a diva complex.
While Westbrook was the face in OKC, it was time to move in a new direction with the trade of Paul George to Los Angeles.
Kenneth Faried is the only notable subtraction from the previous Rockets team, and he is still currently a free agent.
Outside of adding Westbrook, Houston has seven new faces on the roster. Veteran Tyson Chandler joins the fold to help protect the rim and bring experienced veteran leadership. The tantalizing potential of Ben McLemore won him a shot at a roster spot, while the Rockets attempt a reclamation project in Anthony Bennett.
Rookies Michael Frazier (Florida), Chris Clemons (Campbell), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s) and William McDowell-White (Australia) join the team with little to no expectation to have a major impact this season.
Will Russell Westbrook make a more significant impact than Chris Paul did for this team?
That is the burning question for everyone. Much was discussed about the ball dominance of both Paul and Harden heading into the beginning of their partnership and whether they could coexist.
Well last season James Harden averaged 9.3 seconds of possession per touch, which led the NBA, while Russell Westbrook averaged 7.7 seconds of possession per touch — good for third in the league. Westbrook was also second in the league in touches per game at 91.2, while Harden was in fourth at 87.2.
So the story repeats itself— is there enough basketball to go around?
The Mike D’Antoni and Russell Westbrook marriage could be a beautiful thing as far as pace goes, but as far as shooting goes, Westbrook is a below-average three-point shooter — something Paul is certainly better at.
This will require the supporting cast to be ready to shoot early and often. Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Austin Rivers, Danuel House and Gerald Green all return as capable shooters beyond the arc. Gordon, Tucker and House all shot over 36% while Green and Rivers weren’t far behind.
Clint Capela will still play a vital role in the pick and roll alongside Harden and Westbrook, as well as anchor the defense.
Long term, the future of the Rockets is bleak, but their future is now. They are all in for this season, one that is expected to be wide open. The era of the “Big Three” is over and now it is time for the “Decade of the Duos.”
Houston will be in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and possibly even a top-four seed. It will not be a cake walk this season, but with two of the most talented guards in the league, Houston has a legitimate shot to go all the way this season.
Stats found on nba.com.
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