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2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



The Milwaukee Bucks were the surprise team of the 2014-15 season, winning 41 games and making the playoffs as the sixth seed. This was an amazing turnaround, considering just one season before they had a league-worst 15 wins. Now, all signs point to Milwaukee continuing to improve due to internal development from their young core, the addition of free agent Greg Monroe and the return of a healthy Jabari Parker. Just how good could these young Bucks be this year?

Basketball Insiders previews the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

Head coach Jason Kidd enjoyed a so-so campaign as a rookie head coach with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. But Kidd found his stride in Milwaukee despite facing numerous obstacles such as Jabari Parker’s season-ending knee injury, Larry Sanders’ unexpected retirement and a trade deadline that swapped Brandon Knight (who had been the team’s most productive player) for Michael Carter-Williams. Those types of events typically derail teams, but Milwaukee persevered and made the playoffs. The Bucks’ addition of forward/center Greg Monroe via free agency adds the necessary firepower to expand on the team’s success. The return of Parker in the lineup gives Kidd even more flexibility. Milwaukee should flirt with 50 wins this season, if they can find some outside shooting to create spacing for their offense.

3rd Place – Central Division

-Lang Greene

I can’t wait to watch the Bucks this season. As if getting Jabari Parker back from injury wasn’t enough, the addition of Greg Monroe gives Milwaukee an even scarier young core. While I think the Bucks are still two or three years away from contending, there’s no question in my mind that this is a playoff team and they’ll continue to gain valuable experience in the postseason (just as they did in their closer-than-expected battle with the Chicago Bulls last year). The Bucks had the second-best defense in the entire NBA last year, and now they add Parker and Monroe to strengthen their offense. Right now, this is a very good team and, barring something unexpected, they will soon be great.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Alex Kennedy

A few weeks ago, I proclaimed that the Bucks will eventually win the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that depends on whether management continues to spend the requisite money to keep this team intact. But if they do, goodness gracious, look out. This coming season, the Bucks will find a more balanced offensive attack with the addition of Greg Monroe and we will get to see Jabari Parker continue to fulfill his immense potential. So long as Jason Kidd’s team continues on what seems to be a normal and natural progression, a return to the playoffs is a guarantee and this time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucks earned home-court advantage in the first round. And yes, they will win the East… just not this year.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Moke Hamilton

The Milwaukee Bucks quietly reached .500 last season and made the playoffs without making much noise. More impressively, they did this in spite of losing Jabari Parker to injury. This season, Parker will be back and the former second overall pick is poised to make an impact on this intriguing Bucks teams. They landed a big free agent signing this offseason in Greg Monroe, who gives them a dominant anchor in the middle. The Bucks have pieced together a talented young core with players in the early stages of their careers who can grow and improve as a unit. Michael Carter-Williams (23 years old) will be in his first full campaign with the Bucks after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers last season; Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 years old) nearly doubled his scoring last season; and Khris Middleton (24 years old) averaged 16.8 points after the All-Star Break. Reaching the postseason is an accomplishment, maintaining playoff contention is a challenge. The Bucks will have to jell early with the new additions to prepare for the long haul of 82 games.

3rd Place — Central Division

-Jessica Camerato

Everybody is going to tout the Greg Monroe signing as the thing that ultimately pushes the Milwaukee Bucks to another level of success this year, but Jabari Parker’s return is likely to have just as much (if not more) to do with any imminent success. Parker and Monroe are two gifted offensive players who can consistently combine for 30-40 points a night, which is something the Bucks were sorely missing a year ago. Last year’s team had the defensive prowess, but not the offensive talent. This team has an insanely long starting lineup with plenty of athleticism (Monroe notwithstanding), but the bench is deep too. New ownership has re-energized this organization, and there is every expectation that the Bucks contend for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs next year.

3rd Place — Central Division

– Joel Brigham

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Jabari Parker

Assuming he’s back for opening night, as some reports suggest, Parker’s offensive influence on this team would be massive, as Milwaukee was a team last year that simply could not score the ball with any sort of consistency. Parker, meanwhile, has diverse skills and extended range and should, over the course of the season, work his way toward alpha dog status in Milwaukee, particularly on the offensive end. A minutes count at the start of the year could limit his output, but he’s still the most offensively talented player the Bucks have.

Top Defensive Player: John Henson

A player as tall as Henson can accomplish a lot with a 7’5 wingspan, and even though he’s still not a starter this season, he’ll get plenty of minutes protecting the rim for a squad that has had some frontcourt depth issues since Larry Sanders excused himself from the team and Ersan Ilyasova was traded. Last year, Henson held opposing big men to 37.9 percent field goal shooting and dropped their percentages 14.8 percent below league average inside of six feet. He played only a little over 18 minutes a game but still averaged a couple blocks per contest, all of which places him among the most interesting young big man defenders in the league. With more minutes this year, he should be even more effective.

Top Playmaker: Giannis Antetokounmpo

While the Antetokounmpo point guard experiment wasn’t exactly a successful one a year ago, the burgeoning Greek star has proven that his combination of size, length, speed, athleticism and handle is enough to allow him free passage to the cup almost whenever he wants it. Twenty more pounds of muscle would go a long way toward making him truly unstoppable, but he’s a playmaker if ever there was one. His specialty is tapping away a shot on defense and then sprinting down the court in what looks like four loping strides to stuff one home in transition. He makes his own opportunities, and he’s only getting better at doing it.

Top Clutch Player: Khris Middleton

In March of last year, Middleton had this great last-second three-pointer to beat the Miami HEAT, but that wasn’t his only big shot of the year. He had another great one against Phoenix back in December and certainly hit his fair share of shots in big moments beyond those two game winners. He’s proven he can rise to the occasion in big moments, and until Parker establishes himself as “The Man” in Milwaukee, the ball feels very safe in Middleton’s hands at the end of big games.

Top Unheralded Player: Greivis Vasquez

Vasquez is an absolutely perfect fit for the Bucks as a reserve this season, not only because they really needed a competent and consistent backup point guard behind the shaky and offensively-challenge Michael Carter-Williams, but also because the Bucks are a little thin in terms of reserves at the wing positions and Vasquez can play both the two and the three, as well. He’s a good three-point shooter, too, and has enough experience to help supplement all of the youth currently on the roster. He’s going to fit in nicely, and should be a huge help both in terms of veteran presence and on-court ability.

Top New Addition: Greg Monroe

The way Detroit is talking about how much the loss of Monroe is going to help their spacing and offense, one would think he were an absolute albatross eating up the paint and ruining everybody’s lives, but make no mistake; Monroe is a great fit in Milwaukee and should help bring some consistency on offense. While he’s not among the league’s elite defenders by a long shot, he plays on a good defensive team that can mask that weakness, and it’s not as if Carter-Williams needs the lane clear to be effective. Monroe posting up and knocking down high-percentage shots is a good thing for this group, and they’ll go as far as he can take them this year. Without question, Monroe was one of the better free agency signings of the summer.

-Joel Brigham

Who We Like

Giannis Antetokounmpo – He’s still really young, and it certainly does seem that people are expecting more out of him than he’s capable of, but there’s no denying the fact that Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting and physically imposing presences in the NBA. While still rail thin, he’s a small forward with a 7’4 wingspan, which explains why he’s so disruptive defensively and so quick to the bucket on offense. He has a long ways to go, but so far there haven’t been any missteps in his development. Expect another giant leap in 2015-2016.

Jabari Parker – The Bucks played as well as they did last year without their franchise savior, who tore his ACL early in the season and really wasn’t able to contribute to the organizational growth they experienced. Still, the idea always has been for him to become the face of the franchise, and this should be the year where he starts to take on that role. He’s really only got about a quarter of an NBA season under his belt, but he’s a tough, skilled kid with plenty of room to grow. This should be a good year for him to get his footing and start planting his roots in as the leader in Milwaukee.

Greg Monroe – Usually it requires some kind of trade to bring in a seven-footer who averages 15.9 PPG and 10.2 RPG but all the Bucks had to give up to bring in Greg Monroe was money. It was lots of money, but still, Wisconsin never has been much of a free agency destination and landing a fish that big was a testament to the quality of work the front office and coaching staff are doing in Milwaukee. Only 25 years old, Monroe is just entering his prime, and he’s doing it alongside a similarly tall and talented Bucks starting lineup.

John Henson – With Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova gone, this frontcourt has gone from loaded to relatively barren. The only players behind Parker and Monroe at the four and five spots are Johnny O’Bryant III, Miles Plumlee and John Henson, with Henson clearly the best bench option they have to spell either starter. He’s a defensive stalwart whose coach knows how to use him relatively effectively on offense, and that is good considering the uptick in minutes he’s due to play this coming season. Eighteen ticks a night is a thing of the past; Henson officially is a much bigger part of this team.

Khris Middleton – On the one hand, $70 million feels like a lot for a player that nobody has ever come even close to discussing as a potential All-Star, but he was a player who averaged over 13 PPG last year and shot over 40 percent from deep. He’s only 23 years old and really developed some chemistry with Antetokounmpo toward the end of the last year, so he always was going to be a keeper. Milwaukee never even thought twice about keeping him around. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how the scoring hierarchy shakes out with Parker back, Monroe in and Middleton a year wiser. It’s a good problem to have.

-Joel Brigham


So much has been made of the height and length of the Bucks’ starting lineup, but it’s impossible to ignore since there really isn’t a lineup even remotely like it in today’s NBA. Monroe and Antetokounmpo are both 6’11, Parker is 6’8, Middleton is 6’7 and Carter-Williams is 6’6, and that’s not even mentioning wingspans, which are equally impressive. Parker and Middleton both have a 6’11 reach, Carter-Williams has a 6’7 reach, and both Antetokounmpo and Henson have a 7’5 reach. This shows why they’ll be such a dominant team defensively, because long arms disrupt passing lanes and block a ton of shots. Last season they were 8th in the league in points allowed with 97.8 and 5th in opponents’ field goal percentage. They also were first in team steals and 11th in team blocks, and there’s nothing that has happened in the offseason to suggest that much of that will change.

-Joel Brigham


Frankly, the Bucks are an incredibly young team, with their six best players ranging between 20 and 25 years old. Even the “veterans” on this team, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez, don’t have much by way of deep playoff experience under their belts, and that could prove quite a roadblock for a team looking to mature and blossom in a season with high expectations. Veteran leadership is important for a young group like this, and for the most part it doesn’t look they have it right now.

-Joel Brigham

The Burning Question

Are the Bucks really ready to make the leap?

With a strong showing in the playoffs last season, the return of Jabari Parker, the addition of Greg Monroe and the further development of the team’s talented young core, there are a lot of really smart basketball people pegging Milwaukee for a huge year and a real shot at postseason success come May of 2016. But are the Bucks really ready to crack 50 wins? Are they really ready to win a playoff series or two? Inexperience and lack of familiarity with each other could ultimately trump length, athleticism and seemingly unlimited potential. Whether this is the year they make a huge jump or not, the Bucks are on the right track, and success almost certainly is right around the corner.

-Joel Brigham


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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



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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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

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

Drew Maresca



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 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



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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