On Sunday, the world lost Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash – and everybody, basketball and beyond, began to mourn. Bryant, 41, and his win-at-all-costs mindset changed the course of professional basketball through his five championships, one MVP and over 20 incredible seasons.
In a year, Bryant will undoubtedly become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, forever enshrined in Springfield, MA. But until then, and as we all to struggle to find words for an imperfect man and athlete, everyone has considered their relationship to Bryant over the last few days.
His lasting legacy is complicated, but the impact Bryant had on the game – and the current generation of players and fans – is unquestionable.
Below, the Basketball Insiders team shares their thoughts and feelings on the loss of Kobe Bryant.
Growing up, Kobe Bryant was everywhere – even in my tiny corner of the country. And way up in Portland, Maine, one of my closest classmates throughout grade school idolized Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. As his team grew stronger at every turn, Dillon had plenty of ready-made ammunition to toss in the faces of his friends – who were New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves supporters, sadly. But that only served as motivation to give it back to him all the same, often teasing with mawkishly-yelled Kobe! calls when our buddy missed an easy bucket or dunked on the Nerf hoop in his purple and yellow-painted bedroom.
Bryant seemed to infiltrate every moment of my young basketball fandom – and not only because I lived deep in Celtics territory.
But beyond that, and despite his objectionable off-the-court issues that linger after all these years, losing Bryant is another sad reminder to love people while you still can.
Not later, not in a few months, not even the next time you make it home – but right now. Make that call, send that text, keep trying to mend once-burned bridges. Build from the bottom-up and be better than you were before. Say I miss you and I love you and talk to you soon as much as possible because tragedies never seem to make an appointment. As you undoubtedly know already, it is never the right time to say goodbye to somebody important – whether that’s an old pal or a former superstar – but Kobe’s sudden departure should come as a warning to everyone.
Hardly anything in this life is permanent but the memories of the ones you love come pretty darn close.
I haven’t stayed in touch with Dillon as much as I would’ve liked since we graduated from high school almost a decade ago – but I think I owe it to myself to try again.
– Ben Nadeau
I’ll never forget how hard I was kicking myself. As I sat there a few cars behind waiting to get into the parking garage, Kobe Bryant’s pregame presser began before his final game in Cleveland as his retirement tour rolled along. I failed to realize how packed Quicken Loans Arena would be at that time to send No. 24 off.
Maybe I should’ve expected it. After all, if I had an emotional connection to this larger-than-life being that kept my eyes on the television, so did others just like me. It’s funny: Kobe was a major favorite of mine growing up, but Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen were my Nos. 1 and 2. That’s no disrespect to the Los Angeles Laker legend, of course, but rather me straying away from the mainstream. In fact, I hardly even used Kobe in video games because I wanted to beat him, whether it was against the computer or a friend.
Looking back at memories, there’s too many to name. Obviously, the Kobe-Shaq dynamic and their unique relationship was always an interest of mine. I actually like to make a game out of naming the teammates he had over his years. The more obscure, the better — Smush Parker, Slava Medvedenko, Andrew Bynum, Shannon Brown, Metta World Peace — or those times in which he played with Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Regardless of who he played alongside and how good of a team the Lakers had, there’s one fluid motion that will always make me think of Kobe.
Backdown on the baseline. Shoulder fake towards the basket. Spin back towards the baseline. Right leg kicks out. Turnaround fadeaway from 15 feet. Bucket.
The basketball world is shell-shocked. I’ll admit I still have no idea how to process this. At 27 years old, I barely remember seeing Michael Jordan growing up. But I watched Kobe Bryant. And I often did it with my eyes wide open and jaw dropped to my chest. This was “the guy.” For me, for so many of us ’90s kids.
That’s why my heart hurts. I’m sick about him. I’m sick about his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. I’m sick about Gianna’s teammates — Alyssa Altobelli and her parents, John and Karen; Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah. I’m sick about Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It just doesn’t make sense…
I wasn’t able to speak with Kobe at his farewell performance in Northeast Ohio, but I do remember watching him dazzle as he tried to lead one of his infamous comebacks against LeBron James’ eventual championship-winning team. Feb. 6, 2016 ended with him greeting friends and fans in the player garage before he left. Knowing I hadn’t documented any type of memory from the occasion, I snapped a quick photo walking out as best as I could get.
It’s blurry. It’s grainy. It’s low resolution. And I’ll cherish it forever.
– Spencer Davies
Days later, and I remain in disbelief. Kobe Bryant, dead at 41, is not something I ever thought I would have to type. On that tragic Sunday morning, the NBA lost a legend, one woven into the fabric of the Association as much as he was Los Angeles, the city that took him in as an 18-year-old and made him their own.
But, more importantly, the world lost a loving father and a man whose passion for and exuberance in life permeated everything he did and extended to everyone he met.
Of course, my connection to Bryant isn’t exactly unique. I grew up in Massachusetts, a fan of the Boston Celtics – and, for the better part of my life, it was my business to hate him more than anything else. Of course, I respected him; it was hard not to, given his ability and approach to the game. But, in hindsight, he played a far greater role than I ever gave him credit for in the development of my own love for the game.
Yes, Bryant was the enemy. Yet, he embodied everything there is to love about competition and the game of basketball; an insatiable hunger and uncompromising drive to win at the highest level; a zeal for the game unequaled, neither then nor today; the desire to break down his opponent and bend the game to his will. Kobe was the ultimate competitor and made the game that much more enjoyable.
My appreciation for Bryant only grew in his post-NBA career. A man that was once so isolated and cold warmed to the world and tried to further the game in any way he could. Bryant not only served as a friend and mentor to a number of current players, but was a major advocate for the WNBA as well.
It would be disingenuous of me were I not to address the more unsavory aspects of Bryant’s life. To some, the Colorado-based case that culminated in Bryant’s admission of having non-consensual sex with a young woman was just a bump in Bryant’s road to superstardom. To others, it tarnished his character and still does to this day. Either way, it’s made his lasting legacy a complicated one to address.
That said, Bryant’s growth as a person beyond that incident was evident. And, while it may be difficult to parse through, Bryant can and should be celebrated for the good that he did as long as we can acknowledge the bad that preceded it.
Bryant certainly had an impact on me, both in sport and in life. And, for that, I’ll be forever thankful.
– Shane Rhodes
Each morning since the accident, I have woken up hoping it was all a nightmare that has finally ended. Each morning, I have woken up saddened to realize again that it was not. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up with Kobe Bryant as the premiere sports icon in Southern California. Kobe was one of my favorite athletes and I, like many kids, tried to emulate parts of his game when I was young and played on youth basketball teams. As I grew older, I became more critical of issues like his inability to maintain his shaky relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and other, more serious matters, such as his well-documented off-court legal issues.
But I always appreciated Kobe’s drive and unshakable belief in his own abilities. He wasn’t as lethal of a shooter as Ray Allen or as physically gifted as LeBron James but he turned all of his weaknesses into strengths and worked relentlessly to become the most complete player he could be. I have tried to apply that same approach in all aspects of my life, though I have fallen well short of that goal more times than I care to admit. But most importantly, since his retirement, I came to respect the well-rounded family man that Kobe became. He was always with his family, supporting them in their own endeavors. Kobe seemed to be more balanced, at peace and happier than ever. His death, and that of his daughter, Gianna, is a tragedy that has impacted me more than I would have imagined.
I’m saddened that this nightmare won’t end, that we won’t get to see Gianna go to UConn and eventually take over the WNBA with Kobe supporting her every step of the way.
– Jesse Blancarte
Kobe Bryant was the first player I can remember watching when I was younger. He was my generation’s Michael Jordan, of course. I certainly wasn’t a Lakers fan growing up, but I loved watching Bryant compete. As fun as he was to see on the court, the biggest impression Kobe ever left on me was this quote he said after he retired:
“Fast-forward 20 years from now,” Bryant said. “If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed.”
Basketball was his life. He was a five-time champion, an MVP and an 18-time All-Star. And yet he truly believed he could still achieve more. It’s an absolute tragedy we won’t get to witness what those 20 years would have held.
But if Kobe taught us anything, it’s that hard work and determination – not circumstance – truly define who one can become.
– Jordan Hicks
As a writer, I covered Kobe Bryant constantly while toggling the focus on his flaws. There’s no excusing or sugarcoating the incident that culminated in him admitting to having non-consensual sex with a 19-year-old. His maniacal competitiveness and unrelenting zeal for the spotlight made him a less effective player and teammate than his rings, medals, trophies, game-winners and place in the game’s all-time hierarchy suggest.
But on Sunday, I suddenly remembered how much I used to revere him. How Bryant was once my favorite player growing up or how without him I wouldn’t love basketball quite as I do. Then I almost started crying, and have tried to watch every game since with the same sense of joy I felt as a kid.
– Jack Winter
I never had the privilege of meeting Kobe. I don’t have a unique perspective or a memorable story to tell. I grew up thousands of miles from Los Angeles and never had a desire to visit the city. That is why the last 48 hours have been so bizarre to me. The emotional devastation felt throughout the day and the sleepless nights have had such an impact on me in a way that I would never have imagined.
Growing up during the Michael Jordan era, I viewed Kobe as an imposter. But this was a guy that would just rip your heart out, play after play, after play, after play. Still, his second act after retirement as a father figure and a creative mastermind has always struck me. His passion for life and the inspiration that he offered so many people is something that we will all miss dearly. The stories have been heartwarming, while the sadness has been felt across the globe. We should all aspire to attack each day as Kobe Bryant would because we’ve seen the much-needed positivity and success that it can bring.
– Chad Smith
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t the biggest Kobe Bryant fan growing up. Michael Jordan was my childhood hero. Worse, Kobe always came across as an imitation. To me, he was never as good and it always irked me how his fans tried to put him on the same pedestal as Jordan. My mindset began to change in recent years, however.
Most people remember their first love and, well, my first love was basketball. It’s the one love that’s never left me, never abandoned me, never walked out on me. It’s always been there for me. I cried when I first read Kobe’s poem, “Dear Basketball.” That was me.
Everything he wrote, all the emotion he put into that poem, that was me. Basketball was Kobe’s love. He ate, slept and breathed the game. How could I not appreciate someone who had a love that burned brighter for the sport than mine did? How could I not respect someone whose passion and dedication for the game was so strong? I was rooting hard for him to win an Oscar for that piece. When he did, I wanted to cry, shout and smile all at once. That poem has become the epitome of a love letter to me.
I penned an actual love letter not too long after his Oscar win. I tried to channel the same energy and emotion that Kobe used. When you love something/someone, the words just flow from the heart. They did for me, as I imagine they once did for Kobe too. I finished it, but I never delivered it as things went south before I had the opportunity.
By now, the age-old cliche of time-is-short has been beaten to death –but there is some truth in that. As I was listening to Shaquille O’Neal and watching him tear up, his words kept echoing in my mind. It had been a while since he’d last spoken with Kobe and he wished he had the opportunity to say something to him one more time.
And as I sit here and finish these words, I think of my undelivered letter, my version of “Dear Basketball.” I owe it to myself, to Shaq and to Kobe to make that attempt to see it delivered. While Kobe certainly loved basketball, his love for his family and the people who meant something to him was even greater. Years from now, I don’t want to be sitting here wishing that I should’ve reached out. I don’t want to be kicking myself for not even attempting to re-light the red flame. And so, I’ll channel my inner Mamba and try to win my own Oscar.
Kobe and Gigi, the basketball world will miss you and we’ll keep you in our hearts forever.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
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.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
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.
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.
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.
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.