While putting good players on the floor is an important aspect of watching live basketball, there’s a lot more to the experience than just the game itself. Certain NBA buildings stand out because they make being a fan of a team more fun due to the atmosphere they help to create around the game. Today’s list of top five NBA arenas explores which organizations do the best job of that.
To assemble this list, the top-rated arenas were broken down in terms of design quality, how much history the building boasts, the amenities offered, the quality of the product on the court, the enthusiasm and support of the fans, and a wild card (which could cover any extra pros or cons of the arena).
Each category was given a score out of 10, and those points were then added up. The results are listed here in terms of total points.
With that said, here are the top five arenas in the NBA today:
#5 – Moda Center, Portland Trail Blazers (38/60)
From the outside, the building formerly known as the Rose Garden looks different from any other arena in the league, and it’s a look that definitely earns points in the “pros” column. Also, in the Moda Center the luxury suites are higher up than in many NBA buildings, which means more fans in actual seats closer to the action. That may have something to do with how loud this building can be when things are popping for Portland. Well, that and the “acoustical cloud,” a set of rotating acoustic panels dangling from the roof to amplify crowd noise.
Originally called the “Rose Garden” after Portland’s nickname (The Rose City), this building opened in 1995 and has never hosted an NBA Finals. In 1999 and 2000, it did host the Western Conference Finals, but that’s about as historic as this building gets.
There are a number of exceptional restaurants at the Moda Center, including a sports bar, barbecue grille and many more. Plus, it’s easily accessible via public transportation, which the locals appreciate since the building isn’t located downtown and the Blazers are the only “big four” sports franchise that exists in the area.
Things have been better the last couple of seasons, with back-to-back 50 win seasons and a thrilling first-round series win back in 2014 that provided fans with what may ultimately prove to be the biggest shot of Damian Lillard’s career. Losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez won’t help the on-court product, but Lillard is a star and will give plans plenty to cheer for even if the team takes a step back this season.
Portland only has one professional team among the four major sports, which means fans are very, very devoted to their beloved Blazers. It shows at games, which consistently sell out, as Blazers fans are among the loudest in the league.
Wild Card: 4
Easily one of the coolest-looking arenas from the exterior, the building formerly known as the Rose Garden loses points for finally submitting to the trend of allowing corporate sponsors to rename a building. The Rose Garden had a much better ring to it.
#4 – Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Pacers (39/60)
There isn’t an arena in the league that feels more like a raucous high school gymnasium than this one, so the Fieldhouse scores well here for its modern take on a decidedly throwback vibe.
Built in 1999, the then-Conseco Fieldhouse immediately played home to an NBA Finals for the Pacers, though they’ve never been back. The building definitely feels retro, and team did make back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship series back in 2013 and 2014, but not a whole lot of major NBA history has happened there just yet.
Located in downtown Indianapolis, the building is accessible, with a great atrium and plenty of excellent restaurants located throughout the arena. There’s even a Dunkin Donuts attached to the team shop.
The Pacers had a down year a season ago, but will have Paul George back healthy and did enough in free agency to keep the fans optimistic.
Indy fans don’t always fill the stands (they were 22nd in the league in per-game attendance last season), but when they do sell out, the Fieldhouse is one of the loudest arenas in the league. Watching a playoff game there is what it must have felt like to watch the big games in “Hoosiers,” just on a much bigger scale.
Wild Card: 6
The Pacers’ practice facility is visible from the street, which means fans can have a free look at their favorite players anytime they’re doing their run-throughs in town.
#3 – United Center, Chicago Bulls (41/60)
The United Center isn’t a pretty building; constructed in the mid-‘90s, it was put together at a time when teams wanted to make bigger arenas, but weren’t yet sure how to do so in a way that still felt intimate and connected to the fans. It’s a lively place, but cavernous and not particularly attractive.
It’s the house that Michael Jordan built, and even visiting players can get caught up in that fact when visiting the UC. It’s not an exceptionally old building, yet the structure still feels rather hallowed. The Bulls won three championships in this building, and fans crowd around the entrance hours before the game to take pictures with the bronze Jordan statue.
Food offerings here aren’t great, and the building itself is isolated on the West Side of town, quite a ways away from downtown Chicago, and with no elevated train stop close enough to the building to be considered convenient.
No matter who is on the court, the Bulls play hard, and Chicago fans appreciate that. With Derrick Rose healthy and Jimmy Butler now officially an All-Star, the Bulls are plenty fun to watch and certainly capable of going deep into the postseason.
The Bulls have led the league in attendance for six seasons in a row, and haven’t dropped out of the top two since the 2003-04 season (they were No. 3 that year). The new Madhouse on Madison packs in more fans than any other arena in the league, so not surprisingly that beast of a building can get extremely loud, even when the games don’t matter. When they do matter, it’s deafening in there.
Wild Card: 7
Watching Chicago’s starting lineup laser-light show is one of the highlights of the live experience at the United Center. If you aren’t there in time to hear that famous Alan Parsons Project song ring out, you’re missing half the fun of seeing the Bulls play in person.
#2 – Staples Center, L.A. Lakers/Clippers (45/60)
The building looks like something that dropped in from outer space (but in a good way), and that futuristic look combined with the spotlights that climb into the L.A. sky at night gives the Staples Center an undeniably Hollywood vibe. Outside, the Star Plaza and all of its bronze statues is definitely something visitors enjoy, as well.
Despite the fact that the arena only opened in 1999, it has already hosted seven NBA Finals and two NBA All-Star games. Five Lakers teams have won championships in Staples Center already, which has meant a lot of history in a very short period of time. (The Clippers are still working on chipping in a little bit more there).
The scoreboard here is excellent, as it includes screens that even people sitting courtside can see. Also, the Staples Center is right in the thick of things in L.A., which means easy access to hotels and great restaurants. The light-rail takes fans right to the arena’s front door, which is another plus.
No one can boast better basketball than the Staples Center, which is filled with professional basketball teams and fans twice as often as any other organization in the league. Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s most popular stars (even if the Lakers are bad now), and the Clippers are one of most exciting groups to watch in basketball. Whichever team you choose to see here, the product will at least be respectable.
Let’s put it this way—the fans get better the higher up in the arena you get. The lower level, particularly at Lakers games, is for people hoping to be seen at a Lakers game. The higher levels are more for serious fans—and L.A. has more of them than any other team in the NBA—so the building certainly isn’t a quiet one, though still not among the league’s loudest.
Wild Card: 7
Celebrities, everywhere you look. Not only do you get to watch a show on the court, but you also get to rub elbows with Jack Nicholson, Billy Crystal and whatever other A-List celebrity may be taking in the game that night.
#1 – Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks (46/60)
Controversially built over a train station in the late ‘60s, MSG is one of the oldest and most iconic arenas in the NBA. The suspended ceiling is probably the most memorable architectural feature of the building, but it’s a huge part of what makes it so memorable visually.
Immeasurably awesome, and not just from a basketball standpoint. Built in 1968, it’s currently the oldest active major sporting facility in New York, and it’s played host to five NBA Finals (two of which the Knicks won), an NBA All-Star game, three WNBA All-Star games, two NHL All-Star Games, and three Stanley Cup Finals. Outside of the major sports, it also hosted the first ever Wrestlemania, the first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight, and memorable concerts by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley among countless others.
Admittedly, MSG is a little outdated in terms of its seating and concourse areas. The lower bowl was recently redone to fit more people, but the upper decks in particular aren’t that pretty. Also, it’s nowhere near as technologically advanced as some of the other arenas mentioned, but that’s part of the Garden’s ambiance.
The Knicks were horrible last season but aren’t that far removed from being a pretty good basketball team. Carmelo Anthony is always worth the price of admission, and the team has added some interesting young players in the draft his year, as well. It might be a year that fans love to hate, but there certainly are worse teams in the Eastern Conference.
Knicks fans are ruthless, which is why this is one of the toughest places to play in the entire league. If things are going well, Knicks fans will cheer their heads off, but they love to boo just as much. More often than not, that booing is directed at the opponents, but the occasional Knickerbocker has felt that wrath as well. No question, this group of fanatics know how to get into the game.
Wild Card: 7
MSG is right in the middle of Manhattan, where there is plenty to see and do. There aren’t many more exciting places to be in the entire country. Plus, Spike Lee knows how to add a little extra level of entertainment to an NBA game.
TD Bank Garden, Boston Celtics (36/60)
Obviously, Boston’s trademark parquet floor is what separates it from the other arenas in the league, but the fact that the arena sits right on the Charles River and adjacent to the gorgeous Zakim Bridge is good for exterior aesthetics as well.
If this were the original Boston Garden, the relevant NBA history would be unparalleled by any other arena, including Madison Square Garden, but this iteration of the building was opened just about 20 years ago. That said, all the retired numbers and championship banners in the rafters recreate a sense of history that, along with the parquet floor, has transferred well to the new building. And the ’08 team did win a Larry O’Brien trophy there.
Nothing really stands out here. There are restaurants and restrooms and gift shops like any other arena, but people don’t rave over anything in particular at the TD Garden as far as those types of things are concerned.
It’s been kind of rough since the 2008 championship, but things are finally starting to turn around thanks to a promising young coach and a promising young core that should grow up nicely together in the coming years.
As prices have risen in the new building, many of the old die-hards have been priced out of sharing their fanaticism like they did at the old Garden, but Boston still is one of the top 10 in the league in attendance every year, and the crowds there are generally very good.
Wild Card: 5
The Sports Museum features tons of awesome memorabilia from Boston sports history, making it arguably the coolest in-arena museum in the league.
Amway Center, Orlando Magic (33/60)
Since this is one of the newest arenas in the league, everything in it is state of the art, including a perfect interior with great sightlines no matter where you’re sitting. Outside, the glass atrium makes the building look pleasing from the street, though the other three sides of the structure are pretty nondescript.
There really isn’t any, since the building was brand new just a few of seasons ago.
The restaurants are diverse, including a bar in the O-Zone with a view of the court. Also, there is a great area for kids to play, which adds a bit to the experience for younger fans. It’s a huge building—some would say too big—but it’s got everything a fan could ever want or need, and since it’s new everything is still in great shape.
Orlando is still a few years away from contending, but their rebuilding efforts are slowly but surely coming along.
Nothing against Magic fans, but they’re not generally featured on lists of the most intense fans in the NBA, and people who frequent Magic games often complain that all the extra stuff to do on the concourses keeps fans from actually getting to their seats and cheering for the team. That can be a downer for the overall atmosphere, even if it makes for a more engaging overall entertainment experience.
Wild Card: 6
The Magic call it the most technologically-advanced arena in the league, and it’s kind of hard to disagree with that. It features 1,100 high-def screens throughout the building and one of the most complex and complete scoreboards in the NBA. Fans in certain areas can order concessions via touchscreen, and menus at concession stands are also displayed on video screens, which makes menu customization easier.
Other Notables: American Airlines Center (Dallas), American Airlines Arena (Miami), Pepsi Center (Denver), AT&T Center (San Antonio), Barclays Center (Brooklyn), Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City).
Are there other arenas worthy of this list? Are there some mentioned here for which your experience didn’t match all this praise? Add in your two cents in the comments section below.
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.