Daryl Morey isn’t shy about pulling the trigger on “all-in” moves and, on Thursday evening, the general manager of the Houston Rockets fired away with a swap of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. With the Rockets firmly in win-now mode, Morey is betting big on the present over the future, particularly when factoring in the cavalcade of assets heading to Oklahoma City to complete the trade. In acquiring Westbrook, Morey is doubling down on a “get stars now, figure it out later” philosophy but, in this case, the Rockets are taking a significant risk that could implode on arrival.
The last time the duo played together, they were young pups finding their way on a team that made a stunning Finals run and the potential of their partnership was taken from us before it had a chance to reach its peak. How they would’ve played together had they grown in the same lineup over the past seven years is a fascinating “what if,” but separately they both evolved into MVP-caliber, ball-dominant players that are different from the 2013 versions of themselves.
From a production and durability standpoint, Westbrook has been better than Paul in recent years, averaging a triple-double in three consecutive seasons and notching an NBA MVP award for his trouble. However, the 30-year-old guard struggled to maintain efficiency during the 2018-19 season, with his true shooting percentage dipping to 50.1 percent and the evaporation of his perimeter game, including a dismal 29 percent mark from three-point range.
In swapping Paul for Westbrook, the Rockets are seemingly banking on the durability factor, with Paul regularly missing time at this stage in his career, but Houston is also putting together an exceptionally challenging fit. James Harden is perhaps the most ball-dominant superstar in NBA history but, despite having his critics, he has been able to maintain off-the-charts efficiency while carrying an unbelievable workload. Adding Westbrook, who projects to be on the floor early and often, would help take the burden off Harden in a way that Paul perhaps could not, but Westbrook’s game does not fit snugly with Harden’s when deploying the tandem together.
Westbrook has connected on only 30.9 percent of his three-point attempts over the last five seasons and, even with a projected uptick in a lesser role, it would be aggressive to suggest that he fits well at all as an off-ball player. Houston will almost certainly stagger lineups to have one of the Westbrook-Harden duo on the floor at all times but, in the same breath, the Rockets will absolutely have to coalesce with both on the court simultaneously, particularly once the postseason rolls around. While Paul was able, as a knock-down shooter and elite passer, to function alongside Harden, it may not be as seamless with Westbrook.