The Houston Rockets have one simple mission for the 2019-20 season — win an NBA title.
After coming up short over the last couple of seasons due to the roadblock that is the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets no longer have to worry about that threat moving forward. The Warriors are broken down and won’t be aiming for a title this season — it’ll be an accomplishment just for them to make the playoffs this year.
Most importantly, the Rockets now have a new leading face to pair alongside James Harden. That would be none other than Russell Westbrook, Harden’s childhood friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate. As a pair of young bucks, the two helped lead the Thunder to an NBA Finals appearance back in 2012.
Now they’ll look to accomplish the same mission — except actually win the title this time around. As the Rockets prepare for their 2019-20 regular season opener against one of the NBA’s top teams in the Milwaukee Bucks, Harden wants to make one thing very clear to Westbrook — they need each other to win the title.
Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
“At the end of the day, we need each other,” Harden said. “This thing won’t work without each other.”
Westbrook Has Looked Inefficient in the Preseason
Although it’s only the preseason, the experiment of pairing two ball-dominant players alongside one another has produced mixed results. In four preseason games against NBA competition, the Rockets have gone 2-2. While Harden has gotten his — he’s averaging over 33 points per game at a 48 percent clip — Westbrook has vastly struggled.
Not only is Westbrook converting shots at a low efficiency, his 3-point shooting remains disastrous and his turnovers are out of hand.
Feigen, who covers the Rockets as a beat reporter, has chalked up Westbrook’s turnovers due to rust because of missed practices and an offseason spent rehabbing injuries. The 30-year-old point guard committed eight turnovers in the team’s 128-114 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.
“With the start of the regular season fast approaching, Westbrook could not keep working his way back from an off-season spent in rehab with practices. He needed to start playing games.
Physically, he looked fine. He was fast and bouncy. He looked pretty much as he always does.
Westbrook, however, was not sharp in any way. His eight turnovers were not so much from being sloppy or careless, though there were a few of those, but largely from looking rusty. His shot was off, but more than that, he did not finish the way he normally does.”
Westbrook Needs to Change Up His Style of Play
Westbrook’s preseason stats won’t give Rockets fans any confidence heading into the regular season. He’s 16 of 40 from the field (40 percent), 5-of-21 from 3-point range (23.8 percent) and has committed more turnovers (17) than assists (14).
While it’s at least refreshing to see that Westbrook is taking a back seat to Harden — and he should — and that Harden is still able to score at a ridiculous pace when paired alongside Westbrook, the veteran point guard is still going to have to find ways to get easy baskets when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
That means Westbrook needs to learn how to move around without the ball, cutting to the hoop and catching passes for easy baskets considering his weaknesses as a catch-and-shoot jump shooter.
This isn’t going to be fixed overnight. But the Rockets — including Harden and Westbrook — hope that they can learn how to properly gel together during the season as they look to accomplish the one thing that has haunted them throughout their careers — actually winning an NBA title.