The TRUTH About Harden, Westbrook, & The Rockets In The NBA Restart (Ft. Skinny Boi, Small Ball)
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The Rockets are going to be without Russ until he’s able to produce two negative tests, and then an additional 2 day quarantine. Which means Westbrook and Harden will not get time to practice before games and maybe Russ misses a few regular season games. Now that doesn’t seem like much until you look at the Rockets standings. They’re the 6th seed, with the same record as the 5th seed and only 1.5 games ahead of the 7th seed. A losing streak could cost the Rockets standing which could have them face the Clippers in the first round, instead of possibly moving up in the standings and facing a more familiar opponent in the Jazz that they’ve beat for the past 2 playoffs. The Rockets are 5-5 without Russ this season. While Russ and Harden won’t have time to necessarily practice with the team and play together, the one benefit of that is that they are going to be rested. `
It’s true that Harden was more on the heftier side, but that weight actually helped aite. At 220 pounds, Harden was never the quickest player, but his ability to change directions and then shield the ball from his defenders with his body has defined his ability to drive. Harden instinctively bumps people off of him as a way to drive past them which prevents the defenders from cutting him off, leading to a completely different trajectory and giving Harden enough space to get a layup. Considering that Harden is 7th in drives per game at 17.9, he’s going to have to fundamentally change how he drives, relying more on quickness than physicality which leads to the next point, his finishes. This isn’t just limited to his finishes, it’s a big part of his ability to dance on the perimeter. Harden nudges defenders off of him right before doing a step back.
Skinny Harden does have his advantages. He’s going to be quicker which means his side steps should be quicker too. He might not need to rely on weight as much and just speed past defenders instead.
Harden also doesn’t have his number 1 pick and roll partner in Clint Capela. In previous playoffs, Capela was crucial in giving Harden options off the pick and roll where defenses had to choose whether to step up on Harden to prevent the floater or guard the lob pass to Capela, exactly like right here in which Harden has drawn the big man who has to choose what to do and chooses to lob. In fact, Harden averaged 2.2 assists per game to Capela in the playoffs out of 7.4 assists per game which is close to LeBron’s 2.8 per game to AD this season. This gave Capela importance and gravity. This gravity would freeze defenders from helping off Capela onto Harden on a drive. Harden is great at making these reads which makes him lethal, but without Capela, this means Russ would have pick up that slack. And he has been in this new small ball lineup in which Harden can legit just dish off to Russ before a double comes and Russ can drive to the hoop with defenses hesitant to help. With how quick he is, this becomes an easy lane and layup.
In the 11 game sample size of small ball Russ, I’m coining that term cause that’s a thing now, Russ began to average 31.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists on an efficient 55% from the field and 38.5% from 3 only shooting 2.4 3s a game. The low 3 point attempts is exactly what we’ve been asking of Westbrook for years, and now with no big man, he has full reign of the paint. Westbrook is barrelling into the paint and he’s been much more effective. He’s increased his field goal attempts at the rim to 13.5 from 10.4 and is making 8.5 of them which is at 62.8%. He’s 2nd in the league in field goals made at the rim and is the only guy in the top 10 under 6’ 8” besides Zion. We saw this in full effect against the Lakers. Westbrook is able to walk his opponents down to inside the 3 point line.
Now you would think that the break would mess up the Rockets as a whole, but not as much as you would think. Out of all the teams in the league, the Rockets had the most isolations per game at 23.1. Second was the Trail Blazers at 11.1.
For the Rockets, and for Russ and Harden, we know that they have championship aspirations, so a lot of things have to go their way, but what do you think? Do the Rockets have a chance? Will Russ and Harden really perform well in the playoffs?