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How Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul's Trade Changes Houston Missiles



You couldn't script two more opposite stars than Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. One is surgical and computational, the other irritating and proactive. One succeeds with craft and touch, the other with aggression and physicality. One maximizes every opportunity they get; the other looks for opportunities that do not otherwise exist.

Everyone changes the playing style of the whole team drastically – only in drastically different ways. With Paul joining the deliberate Harden two years ago, the Rockets revolutionized the isolation game, downplaying the basic elements of basketball such as passing, moving and running in the name of pragmatism. Westbrook's Thunder, meanwhile, were known for their stubborn athleticism, which outperformed most teams, but not the more sophisticated playoff defenses. Both approaches succeeded until they came across the same glass ceiling.

With the rest of Houston's list returns Westbrook-Paul swap allows us to address an important basketball question: Does this team benefit more than Paul's precision or Westbrook's killer instinct?

There is a point in the elimination loss of Game 6 of the Houston Warriors, which offers a practical application. After a stubborn struggle in the first 34 minutes, Houston slowly took control of the game with a 1

0-2 run, covering the third and fourth quarters. Paul was the best during that stretch, raising Golden State's defense with crafty passes and unlocking mid-range jumpers. By seven with 10:45 left, the Rockets forced Clay Thompson into a deadly live-ball turnover and moved the other way at a quick break of 3 to 1.

Here's what ultimately happened.


Andre at Golden State Iguodala broke open three 10 seconds later to reduce Houston's lead to four, and you know the rest. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green beat the Rockets in a crunching playoff elimination, revealing fissures in the Paul-James Harden relationship. After weeks of rumors and coaching drama failing to rebuild the roster that Daryl Morey was looking for, the Rockets had only one option: Swapping Paul (and future drafts) for Westbrook while returning the rest of the group again.

Imagine this scenario where Westbrook is on the floor instead of taking Paul, doomed to a 3-on-1 break. Russ's decision-making may be ridiculous, but he has no way of allowing the Warriors defense to return to the picture. Instead of a four-point lead, Houston is coming up nine (or even 10), forcing the Warriors timeout – Steve Kerr is already in a timeout position while developing a quick break – and probably drives that momentum to victory in Game 6. If we have the full effect of Butterfly here, perhaps this Game 6 victory leads to a Game 7 victory over a battered Warriors team, a final appearance and a real title in Houston instead of one through an internal audit.

Then again, we can't apply the butterfly effect just for a quick break without taking into account all the work Paul did to get to Houston there.

Don't be fooled: The Rockets will be very different with Westbrook, even if the rest of the rotation sticks. During his 11-year career at Westbrook, thunder never ranked lower than eighth in the highest percentage of transition-generated games, according to Ben Falk's Cleaning the Glass. Only 76 percent of their offensive possessions went against the set defense last year, the second-lowest mark in the league. Unlike Houston, they played 81.5 percent of their possession against set protection during the regular season, jumping to 82.7 percent in the playoffs. Rockets often force a tempo before Paul arrives, but progressively slow down during his term.

With the enchantment of enchanted Paul and Harden defenses, this approach makes sense. Since hiring Mike D'Antoni in 2016, the Rockets have been ranked second, first and second in the half court offensive rating, with only the Warriors topping them. With two of the most skilled operators in the history of the NBA to share backwaters, Houston chose a turn-by-turn approach that gave me maximum strength. This clearly worked, with one side effect being that Houston generates fewer job opportunities that could make everyone's life easier.

Westbrook certainly deals with this side effect, though at the expense of others. In his 11 years with the Thunder, the coaches of Oklahoma City have changed, stars have come and gone, and supporting roles have been reversed. Westbrook was a constant in their inability to win the title. On average, his presence on the floor made the Thunder play 2.2 possessions faster per game over those 11 years.

Historically, everyone has adapted to Westbrook, not the other way around. That includes Harden, Westbrook's former OKC teammate. Unsurprisingly, Harden uses significantly more possessions with Westbrook outside of the game than with him on the floor, but during his last two years in Oklahoma City, he has also been less effective effective with Westbrook than without, according to NBA Statistics.

One reason: The thunder played at speed four more possessions at 100 faster with Westbrook and Harden together than Harden himself. Harden flourished individually when he was able to commit a deliberate half-court offense, but was less effective (though still excellent) when he had to sprint with Rus. It's great to watch old Thunder games and see Harden running on the wing as Westbrook pushes the ball in transition.


It is difficult to see this dynamic flight entirely with Westbrook, who now joins the Harden team. Two seasons ago, Thunder played at nearly five possessions per 100 with Westbrook on the court, the biggest differential of his career. Last year, Westbrook took on a slightly smaller role to help Paul George, but still made OKC play nearly two possessions faster in his minutes. For better or worse, he is as striking in style as ever.

Although Harden has apparently appeared before Westbrook in the superstar order, it is unrealistic – not to mention incredibly stupid – to put Westbrook in the same strategy the team uses with Paul Flanning Harden. But the Rockets don't need a completely reversed dynamic to improve next year. They just need Westbrook's marginal profit, creating more chances for light buckets in transition to outpace anything in half court situations.

The arguments against this occurrence are clear. Westbrook, who is never strong, has become one of the biggest commitments in the league. If Harden continues his patented dribble dance, the squatting teams already introduced by Westbrook when he teamed with Harden seven years ago will be child's play compared to what they do now.


Oklahoma City used to account for this problem from


Or by moving the ball in Westbrook into space and placing Harden in the same lateral corner to give Russe wider driving lanes.


Since then, defenses have become more daring, helping non-shooters, Harden has spent less time off the ball, and Westbrook has become much more immobile in the rare moments when he is missing. Paul didn't move much either, but at least the defenders had to respect their shooting. They don't have to worship Westbrook.


Even the teams that strive to score the most, half-courts account for about 75 percent of their possessions in the regular season and more in the playoffs. This is a huge proportion of sequences that will be less effective, perhaps significantly so, due to the Westbrook / Paul exchange.

On the other hand, the chances of transition are so much more fruitful, even if the best semi-judicial violation is, on average. Consider that the least at least league transitional offense last year (Miami) scored more than 12 points per 100 possessions in similar games than the most efficient in the league a half-court offense (Golden State) made against a set defense, according to a glass cleaner. Converting, say, five possessions in a half-court transition game has a significant effect on even the most surgical half-court violations in the league – and especially in playoffs when the pace tends to slow.

The extra chances of transition Westbrook creates should add a lot more points to Houston's total. Houston effectively transformed transition opportunities last season, putting the 10th-best percentage in the league. This is actually much better than Westbrook's Thunderstorm, which finished 25th, 24th and 26th in transition points per 100 possessions after Kevin Durant's departure in 2016. But Houston has done so much more. rarely by the Thunder that their performance advantage was limited.


But with Harden and (especially) Paul preferring a deliberate pace, Houston did not have a driver to constantly put pressure on the rim in these situations. This, of course, is Westbrook's specialty. Oklahoma City has never had a floor gap Houston will use to open Westbrook's pickup truck, which should make both Westbrook and these shooters significantly more effective at rest.

Getting Easier Goal Opportunities While Making It Even Easier? That sounds like a good way to become a better team.

None of this happens in a vacuum, of course. The rest of the Rockets – mainly Harden, but also the role players – will have to adapt to Russ's approach after internalizing more stationary to account for Paul. Running usually comes from stopping, and Houston is a weaker defensive team than Oklahoma City. (Westbrook won't help there either). Westbrook will have to at least make an effort to be a threat to the ball when play is slow, something he rarely does in his career. There is also the matter of how many minutes are handled when Westbrook and Harden play separately. (One advantage over Paul Harden & # 39; s style mirror: It was easier for the other four players on the floor to adjust to being in different lineups).

But if these things happen, the question of whether Paul's accuracy or Westbrook's murderous instinct is more important to the team becomes false. Rockets can just get the right balance of both, instead of having to choose.


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