The Houston Rockets’ projected 2019-20 championship odds are suddenly driving forward with the same ferocity as the player responsible for the surge has been famous for during his career.
The surprise arrival of Russell Westbrook via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder late Thursday night is naturally the catalyst for the quick leap. His unexpected landing in Houston — after rumors of a move to the Heat had picked up steam earlier in the week — sent Rockets’ 2019/20 championship futures from +1400 to +800 on FanDuel Sportsbook. On DraftKings Sportsbook, it was an even slightly bigger jump: Houston’s number climbed to +750.
Meanwhile, after absorbing the twin blows of the Westbrook-Paul George departures, the Thunder have headed into uncharted waters (as far as recent seasons) with respect to their outlook. After plummeting to +6500 after the George trade, OKC fell to +15000 (DK) and +16000 (FD) after the Westbrook news broke.
Overreaction or warranted?
So, is the drastic, reactionary movement warranted on the Rockets’ end? That’s a question that bears pondering now that the initial surprise is wearing off. A Westbrook-Harden reunion is picturesque in the abstract. But how will it hold up in a real-world basketball sense?
We’ll have to wait another three-plus months to find out. Still, bettors contemplating putting some cash down on Houston futures have to do the critical analysis sooner. An honest look at the situation may reveal a bit of a trap.
As spectacular as he can still be on any given night – or play, for that matter – it’s likely safe to say we’ve already seen absolute peak Westbrook.
Granted, that still leaves an extremely talented player that is arguably turning into one of the greatest facilitators of all time. The fact he has history on the floor with Harden, albeit when The Beard was still more of a Whisker while serving as an important second-unit piece for the Thunder, could certainly be a plus. Westbrook has also been admirably durable following a pair of injury-shortened seasons earlier this decade (although he will turn 31 very early into next season).
However, his scoring (22.9 PPG) saw a dip last season to its second-lowest point since the 2010-11 campaign. Even his free-throw shooting inexplicably took a dive to a career-worst 65.6 percent. His field-goal percentage, always short of elite, checked in at a middling 42.8 percent – his third sub-43.0 percent tally over the last five seasons.
The perennial All-Star still averaged a triple-double and certainly worked well in concert with George. No matter, the Thunder still fell well short of the NBA title they’ve long coveted. Now that George and Kawhi Leonard have joined forces in Los Angeles, there’s a good chance the end result isn’t any different for “Westy” in Houston.
How much did both Westbrook’s and the Rockets’ outlook actually improve?
Granted, the chances of any team not named the Warriors emerging from the Western Conference next season have gotten much better with Kevin Durant’s move east and Klay Thompson’s ACL tear. But both the Clippers and Lakers upped their respective arsenals to the point where matters have arguably gotten tougher out west despite the apparent (temporary?) end of the Golden State dynasty.
Westbrook’s slight decline isn’t the only important factor at play. So is the talent he’ll be surrounded with in his new digs. Harden is naturally a perennial MVP candidate whose ability certainly puts him on par with Durant in terms of the most explosive player Westbrook has shared the floor with.
Yet, in George, Westbrook certainly had his time with a player that was arguably just a level or two below Harden last season. And although he’ll have a chance to feed an arguably more talented offensive center than old teammate Steven Adams in Clint Capela, the difference between the two big men’s numbers isn’t as drastic as one might think. Then, in Jerami Grant, he had access to a more potent offensive piece at power forward in OKC than he does in new teammate P.J. Tucker.
Perhaps also a bit lost in all the furor is the fact the Rockets didn’t exactly have a cardboard cutout playing point guard last season.
Chris Paul is no longer in peak form, either. Yet he still served as a very pivotal component of Houston’s title quest last season despite seeing his own shooting downturn. Westbrook is unquestionably an upgrade. However, given all the other extenuating factors cited, how much net improvement he actually can produce remains as firmly up in the air as one of his trademark leaps.
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