Rockets Lead

Westbrook, Harden Finding Their Groove at the Perfect Time

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Having two MVPs on the same roster is typically a recipe for success. Some were skeptical of the Russell Westbrook-James Harden pairing, but the two have shown an uncanny ability to play with one another. They are both currently in the midst of their best stretch of the season, and the Rockets are absolutely rolling.

 

The Rockets are winners of four in a row, including huge comeback wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. In each of the past three games, Westbrook has eclipsed the 30-point mark.

Westbrook’s Rise

Early on in the season, the Rockets struggled a bit to find their footing. Harden has been relatively consistent, but Westbrook’s impact was volatile game to game. Now, though, the two are playing together far more effectively. How has this occurred?

At the beginning, Westbrook looked uncomfortable. He was trying to fit into a system that didn’t really fit his style. A career 30.5% three-point shooter, Westbrook is not the typical “Moreyball” player. He did his best, but playing as a spot-up shooter was never right for him. As the season has progressed, though, Westbrook has made it a point to play more his way. He is far more aggressive getting to the rim as often as possible, and is committed to moving his three-point shot to the mid-range. In their recent win over Phoenix, he attempted a whopping 11 mid-range shots. By playing to his strengths, Westbrook has brought a shockwave of energy to the Rockets.

In the past, the Rockets have rostered high-energy guys, but Westbrook’s quickness is something that this team hasn’t seen before. He can consistently outpace defenses without breaking a sweat.

When Westbrook does this, he’s impossible to stop. As he becomes more and more confident in the offense – getting the green light to play his style – he should be able to build on his impressive recent play.

Westbrook and Harden Together

With Westbrook’s commitment to his brand of basketball, he has found greater success alongside Harden. While many predicted that their contrasting playing styles would lead to a stagnant offense, the opposite has occurred. Rather than compromise their own unique abilities, the two have found a way to stymie defenses while playing their own way.

Harden is more methodical, typically not making a move until late in the shot clock. Westbrook pushes the pace, and attacks the rim whenever possible. Because of this, opposing defenses have no idea how to match up against them. Doc Rivers had this to say: “We give so much attention to Harden that we forget the other MVP that’s on their team. You’ve got to respect him and play him the right way.”

The Clippers had a relatively good game plan against Harden. Despite his efficiency, they only allowed him to attempt 16 shots on the night. However, as Doc stated, they only game planned against Harden’s style of play. This is what makes the Rockets so dangerous. Because Westbrook, at his best, plays in a completely different way than Harden, there is no way to effectively guard both players at the same time. You can contain one to an extent, but teams haven’t figured out a way to contain both.

Harden’s Efficiency

James Harden takes a lot of shots. James Harden also makes a lot of shots. Over his past six games he is shooting 50.5% on an unprecedented 28.3 shot attempts per game. Now, the average fan might take a look at his shot chart and say that it’s too much. When Harden is scoring so efficiently, however, there’s no harm in him taking as many shots as he can. A Harden isolation, crazy step-back three is still probably more likely to go in than an open Austin Rivers three (Sorry Austin Rivers). The Rockets, then, by allowing Harden to be Harden, have created an extremely efficient offense.

The Rockets have the second highest offensive rating in the league at 114.4. This is thanks in large part to Harden doing things like this:

Despite the lack of ball movement here, Harden’s unique ability to make impossible shots like this is what keeps the Rockets’ offense going. He scores so effortlessly, and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Looking Ahead

Coming up, the Rockets take on the Warriors on Christmas. If Westbrook keeps playing his style, and if Harden keeps dropping forty points with ease, the Rockets should have no problem taking care of business.

Oh, and Eric Gordon should be making his return from injury soon. Watch out, NBA.

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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