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Are The Bucks The New Magic?

There are certain qualities to this current Milwaukee Bucks team that remind Matt John of the Orlando Magic team that once was among the best of the best.

Matt John

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Almost to a fault at times, making a comparison is so easy when it comes to the NBA. Whether if it’s comparing teams or players, we always like to think someone or something reminds us of Team X or Player X.

This season is still in its infant stages, yet we’re already seeing reminded of us crews we’ve seen in previous years.

Take this year’s Golden State Warriors. Following their reign of dominance over the last several years, their best players are all so marred with injuries that their best course of action might just be to throw the season away in hopes of acquiring a high draft pick. That, then, could be following a path similar to the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs.

Another example might be this year’s Chicago Bulls. We were so swept up in how promising the Bulls looked with their youth toward the end of last season that the overhyped was ultimately undeserved. The team currently stands at 2-6 and they haven’t exactly faced the toughest competition in that timespan. For contrast’s sake, Chicago may be a reincarnation of the 2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks.

Which brings us to the Bucks as they stand now. Milwaukee came into this season with many expecting them to be one of the better teams in the league. At 5-2, they look just about as good as advertised. The Bucks have an unstoppable, all-time player entering his prime, a brilliant coach and a bunch of players on the roster who, thanks to their shooting abilities, fit like a glove alongside their franchise player.

Let’s check that again and be a little more specific. They have a superstar player whose freakish abilities physically make him arguably the hardest player in the league to stop. Milwaukee has players that help their alpha dog because they can shoot the rock and a wisened coach who knows how to mix and match.

Sound familiar? It should because those were some of the exact components that made the Orlando Magic — way back when they were led by Dwight Howard — an elite franchise from 2008 to 2010.

Now, these two teams aren’t the exact same team detail-by-detail. In their primes, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Howard had some distinct differences between each other. Howard’s natural athleticism — combined with his overpowering strength — made him an all-around terror on both ends of the floor. In fact, when he was at the peak of his power, Howard may have been the most terrifying shot-blocker the NBA has ever seen.

Antetokounmpo, by contrast, is renowned more for his length, handle and speed, three advantages that Howard never really had. The Greek Freak’s long limbs and body control make him a matchup nightmare for opponents — whether if it’s in the half-court or on the fast break.

The overarching theme between the two future Hall of Famers is that their physical gifts allowed their respective franchises to max out the full roster’s potential. Thanks to that, there are several similarities between these current Bucks and those Magic teams from a decade ago.

The Play Styles

At the height of their playing abilities, Orlando lived and died at the three-point. Back then, detractors labeled that sort of playing style as “soft.” Nowadays, they should be revered for being ahead of their time.

Back in the 2008-09 season, Orlando took 26.2 threes per game which, at the time, seemed absurd when you compare them to their other elite competitors like the Boston Celtics (16.5, ranked 21st), Los Angeles Lakers (18.5, 15th) and Denver Nuggets (18, tied for 17th). That year, the Cleveland Cavaliers ranked fifth in three-point attempts a game, but they shot only 20.4 from distance.

Last season, only four teams took less three-point shots than the 2008-2009 Orlando Magic. But in 2008-09, only one team attempted more threes than the Magic. Yeah, the times have changed.

It was more of the same the following year, as the Magic led the league in three-point attempts with 27.3. Again, many scoffed at the idea of a team’s identity offensively centering so much on the three-ball. Now, you’re scoffed at if you don’t shoot enough from three-point land.

The offensive strategy could be boiled down to this: Surround Howard with floor spacers and playmakers that could let him do damage in the post. Back then, Howard was so imposing that opponents usually doubled him and left someone else open.

There was a good reason for this: From 2008 to 2010, the Magic had a wide array of dependable floor spacers to surround Dwight. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Vince Carter, JJ Redick, Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, Rafer Alston and Matt Barnes — all beyond capable three-point shooters. Over both years, they shot 38.1 and 37.5 percent from three, percentages that got them in the top ten league-wide.

It was an effective strategy that many believed wouldn’t work. Following the Warriors’ reign of terror, more teams than ever rely on shooting from the perimeter. It may have taken a few years, but the Bucks are following a similar pattern.

After adding players who turned out to be bad fits next to Antetokounmpo — Michael Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe, Matthew Dellavedova — the Bucks realized last summer that consistent shooting would help more than anything else. Since the summer of 2018, they’ve added Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Mirotic (briefly), George Hill, Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver.

By adding this shooting, the Bucks’ offense not-so-coincidentally took off. Last season, they had the league’s fourth-highest offensive rating, scoring 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Part of their newfound success was the improved shooting as they took 38.2 three-pointers a game — with the much-needed bonus of extra room for Antetokounmpo to operate.

The Second-In-Command

When Howard started coming into his own around the end of 2007, the Magic knew he needed help around him for Orlando to take the next step. So, that summer, Otis Smith gave Rashard Lewis a near-max contract believing that he would be Dwight’s partner-in-crime.

Paying Lewis around $20 million seemed like an overpay for someone that had only made the All-Star Game once in his career, but it was a good addition in the prime of his career.

Lewis may not have been worth as much as Orlando was paying him, but he produced about as much as he could in a Magic uniform. His dead-eye shooting played a key role in the franchise making a surprise NBA Finals appearance in 2009, as he averaged 19 points on 45/39/78 splits. Those were good numbers, but were they numbers that of the second-best player on a championship-level team?

Whether it was or not, Lewis’ mysterious decline — or lack thereof — played a role in Orlando slipping in 2010 and taking a major step back the season after that. Lewis’ sharpshooting elevated the Magic to contender-status with Howard, but we were never sure if he was the best go-to guy next to your superstar.

Thusly, this brings us to Khris Middleton. Middleton has a very similar story to Lewis in regards to how he made it to the NBA. A second-round pick that gradually left his mark on basketball as he proved to be one of the league’s best shooters. But how he got paired with a titan for a teammate is a tad different.

While Lewis was brought in to be a dynamic duo with Howard via free agency, Middleton has been with Antetokounmpo from the beginning. In the six-plus years that they’ve been together, the two have had their highs and lows — eventually reaching where they are today: NBA contenders.

Giannis is now finally playing in an offense that helps him play to his full potential, while Middleton has established himself as a scoring threat thanks to his ability to shoot from just about anywhere.

The NBA has definitely taken notice of this. Middleton’s skill set earned him his first All-Star appearance. Middleton is the No. 2 option in Milwaukee for the same reason Lewis was in Orlando — he can shoot the rock. Now Lewis faced plenty of doubts surrounding if he could be the second guy on a title team, but he performed admirably in the role when the playoffs came. For Middleton though, he raised some red flags last year.

Overall, the two-way standout’s performance in the postseason wasn’t bad. He did his usual thing during the first two rounds, but it came against a team without their superstar (Detroit) and another that was already self-imploding (Boston). When the Bucks faced the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, Middleton couldn’t keep it up.

Outside of Game 5, Middleton’s production as a whole trailed off. He was barely a factor in any of the series, actually. Overall, he averaged 13.7 points on 41/34/55 splits, which are not acceptable for a guy who was playing 40-plus minutes a night.

While Middleton may not flame out as Lewis did, the question remains: Can a sharpshooter be your second-best player on a team looking to win it all?

The Lost Piece

Much has been said about how Milwaukee and Orlando were built around an all-time talent and a bunch of shooters — still, there is a little more nuance to it than that. Both franchises needed playmakers on their squads to get their offense rolling.

For the Magic, that member was Hedo Turkoglu, a savvy playmaker and shooter that had a reputation for coming through in the clutch. He wasn’t the best athlete, but he was unselfish and complemented Howard and Lewis as as much as he could.

Much like Lewis, Turkoglu played a pivotal role in getting the Magic to the NBA Finals. Averaging 16.8 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds while putting up 43/39/82 splits would convince any team to re-sign him long-term, but Orlando didn’t see it that way. They sign-and-traded him to the Raptors for Vince Carter in hopes of replacing, or possibly upgrading, in the process.

What does this have to do with the Bucks now? If you haven’t guessed yet, Milwaukee ran into a similar predicament with Malcolm Brogdon. In Milwaukee, he was never a star, but he was the guy that the Bucks relied on to make the extra play because of his fundamentals — both as a passer and as a shooter.

He was excellent in the role that the Bucks gave him and, in fact, there were times where he played like the second fiddle to Antetokounmpo. His sturdy play in the postseason also made it easier to stomach Eric Bledsoe’s struggles. Surely, hanging onto would have been wise, but Brogdon wanted to be more than the third guard. Conversely, the Bucks had already invested in so much of their roster that paying top dollar for a sixth man seemed steep.

However, herein lies a key difference between the Bucks of today and the Magic of 2010. The Bucks have not acquired someone in hopes of replacing what Malcolm Brogdon brought to the table, unlike the Magic that believed Carter would do an admirable job filling in for Turkoglu.

Given how Turkoglu did after he left the Magic in 2009, you can see why they opted not to keep him. Not to take away from how amazingly Brogdon has done in Indiana — he’s been worth every penny — but his would-be role with Milwaukee didn’t match up with the money the young player desired.

Both Orlando and Milwaukee had those glue guys that kept the team afloat — but their departures, as sensible as they may have been, left a hole that became tough to smooth over. For the Bucks, that lingering issue has not yet resolved itself.

But the overarching debate to come from all of this is: Are these similarities a good or bad thing for Milwaukee?

Well, on one hand, Orlando never came away with a championship with the core that they had and that window was only two years long. On the other, a few unexpected twists changed their fortunes for the worse, like Jameer Nelson’s shoulder injury in 2009, Lewis mysteriously falling out of his prime at 30 and a few missed free throws altering the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.

Milwaukee’s window finally opened last year and, for now, it’ll be open until at least 2021. If they want to keep it that way — Antetokounmpo’s status could change overnight without palpable results — they may have to ask themselves if the best route is to follow that of the 2008-10 Orlando Magic or to go another path.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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