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Ranking the Western Conference’s Second Units

Eric Saar breaks down and ranks the Western Conference’s second units.

Eric Saar

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The NBA is a league driven by star power. It’s what many fans care about. That’s how it’s marketed to the masses, and usually fans are more interested in teams with one or more established superstars.

But that’s not how basketball is played. While only five guys are on the court at a time, each team is afforded 15 roster spots for a reason. Basketball is a team game, and it’s important that teammates work together in a cohesive and effective way. It is true that superstars can take a team to the next level and even play more as the playoffs roll around, but depth is very important too. In a 48-minute game, the starters usually play around 32 minutes each (with superstars sometimes averaging a bit more) and that even bumps up a few minutes by the postseason. But those 16 extra minutes can easily be the difference in a game, and can have a cumulative effect throughout the grueling 82-game regular season. .

What if your star players get hurt or have a bad game? That’s when a bench needs to pick up the slack. Needless to say, a team isn’t going anywhere in the NBA without a top-20 player or two, but it similarly won’t go far without an effective bench. The NBA season is a grind and when the stars aren’t feeling up to the task, the reserves needs to provide a spark.

In this article, we rank the Western Conference’s second units. The teams will be divided up into three tiers. The top tier includes teams that are deep and can rely on production from their reserves. The second tier features teams with reserves that are inconsistent or just average. The third tier consists of teams whose benches are a major weakness and will likely be a liability throughout the upcoming season. The following list ranks the West teams from worst to first.

Third Tier

  1. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks’ bench is a disaster. When DeAndre Jordan made his U-turn, things started going downhill for Mark Cuban and his team. They were able to re-sign J.J. Barea, but lost Richard Jefferson. The rest of their backcourt consists of Raymond Felton, John Jenkins, Devin Harris and rookie Justin Anderson. If you thought this was going to be top-heavy team before, just take a look at the roster now. Their best player off the bench might be the 2015 version of Harris, or perhaps Anderson. Their frontcourt consists of some relatively unknown players that most casual fans have never heard of, including Dwight Powell, Maurice Daly Ndour, Satnam Singh Bhamara, Jarrid Famous.

  1. Portland Trailblazers

The Trail Blazers lost a whole bunch of players in free agency this summer. In addition to losing 80 percent of their starting lineup, they also lost depth. Their second unit is basically a host of young, promising, yet unproven talent… and Chris Kaman. At this point, their best bench player is probably C.J. McCollum. The rest of the rotation consists of Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, Pat Connaughton and Tim Frazier. It looks like it’s going to be a rough year for the rebuilding Blazers, though, to their credit, they did well in acquiring some young talent after losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Compared to other Western Conference teams, the Pelicans have very little depth and will again likely rely on the monster production of the “The Brow,” also known as Anthony Davis. While Quincy Pondexter and Ryan Anderson aren’t bad players, the rest of the bench is a little thin. While New Orleans will likely be healthier next season compared to 2014-15, their bench will likely be hit and miss throughout, especially considering Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee and Toney Douglas will probably be relied on for meaningful production.

  1. Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s starting lineup is certainly maturing and starting to mesh as a unit, but the rest of their roster is comprised of relative unknowns. As of today, the Jazz’s best bench player is probably Alec Burks. Rodney Hood has shown some promise and rookie Trey Lyles could be special. The problem is everyone on the bench is young and inexperienced, which could lead to inconsistent production. Utah’s roster rounds out with Trevor Booker, Grant Jerrett, Jack Cooley, Tibor Pleiss, Joe Ingles, Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap, Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

While the Lakers have certainly upgraded their roster both in the starting and second units, they still have a lot of unproven players. Jordan Clarkson had a great summer league, Julius Randle has some serious potential and Lou Williams is a potent scorer, but apart from that they don’t have much. Robert Sacre isn’t really a league average backup center at this point and everyone else are unknowns. The roster is rounded out with Ryan Kelly, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Anthony Brown and Jabari Brown.

Second Tier

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have the last three number one draft picks in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Towns and Wiggins will be in the starting unit, which leaves Bennett, who hasn’t lived up to his draft position, along with high-flyer Zach LaVine and bruiser Shabazz Muhammad as reserves. While there is young talent here, the bench will likely struggle against opposing second units featuring several veteran players. Tyus Jones, Lorenzo Brown, Damjan Rudez, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica finish out the roster.

  1. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have taken a slightly different route than many of these teams. When other free agents spurned the Kings, they had to move to Plan B. They’ve signed older players as backups that have already hit their peak in the NBA. These veterans won’t make as many mistakes, but also their ceiling is limited. Their bench is headlined by sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and big man Kosta Koufos, both of whom were acquired this summer as free agents. They also have Caron Butler, Omri Casspi and Quincy Acy coming off their bench with Eric Moreland, James Anderson, Seth Curry, David Stockton and Duje Dukan rounding out the roster.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have a very balanced roster overall, which in this case is not a great thing. Most of their players are basically on the same level talent-wise. No one necessarily stands out. They have a bundle of decent role players dotting their roster, but no superstar, at least yet. Headlining the Nugget’s bench is the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, Emmanuel Mudiay. As of right now he is behind experienced veteran Jameer Nelson, but probably not for long. Also on the roster riding the pine are Gary Harris, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, J.J. Hickson and a few others. The players ahead of them are only marginally better than them, which means their bench is decent, but their starters arguably are not when compared to the rest of the league. They can hold their own, that’s for sure. The rotation also includes Nick Johnson, Erick Green, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Jokic, Joey Dorsey and Kostas Papanikolaou.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have a very nice starting lineup as well as some high caliber players coming off their bench. Brandan Wright, Jeff Green (though he starts occasionally), the old man Vince Carter and Beno Udrih, have a good mix of talent and skill along with the rest of the second unit to keep the team afloat until the starters can come back in the game. Matt Barnes, Jarnell Stokes, JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Jordan Adams and Russ Smith round out the roster.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have a great starting lineup but was demolished by injuries in 2014-15. The upside is their bench players gained valuable experience with the extra playing time. D.J. Augustin, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, and Steven Adams can certainly hold their own on the court until Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are done resting. The rotation is rounded out by Nick Collison, Steve Novak, Cameron Payne and Mitch McGary. However, they probably aren’t going to win you too many games by themselves or make up deficits without some help. That’s what top tier second units do.

First Tier

  1. Phoenix Suns

The Suns have locked in their core for the future and bolstered their shooting and defense as well as their leadership through the draft and free agency. Their bench unit will be quite good in 2015-16. Adding Tyson Chandler sends the budding Alex Len to the bench and gives him even better mentoring as a defensive anchor. They drafted one sharpshooter in Devin Booker and they signed another one in stretch-four Mirza Teletovic. Plus, they opened the door for the effortless scoring of T.J. Warren in a salary dump that created time at the backup small forward spot. They also have Archie Goodwin and signed Sonny Weems. The future is bright for this bench. Look for them to win some games single-handedly when the starters don’t have it going next year.

  1. Houston Rockets

The recent trade to acquire Ty Lawson took a little depth and some longer-term prospects from Houston, but what they lost in quantity they gained in quality.  Lawson will likely take over as the starting point guard (subject to his off court issues), which slots former starter and defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley as the backup point guard. Beverley is a pesk on defense and can knock down shots from three-point range, so he could potentially be one of, if not the best backup point guard in the Western Conference next season. Along with Corey Brewer, Donatas Motiejunas and draft picks Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the Rockets have some serious firepower coming off the bench. Rounding out their rotation is Clint Capela, Jason Terry and K.J. McDaniels as the backup small forward.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Of course the Spurs are ranked this high. They have a knack for picking great players from a low draft position and developing players effectively. This offseason they landed star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency and convinced David West to turn down millions in guaranteed money from Indiana for a chance to win a championship. West, along with Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills along with some young talent like Ray McCallum and Kyle Anderson will sway many games back in the Spurs’ favor when San Antonio’s starters are off their game. The roster is rounded out by Matt Bonner, Reggie Williams, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathan Simmons and Jimmer Fredette.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

Boy did the Clippers’ free agency period go from bad to amazing! They lose DeAndre Jordan, then get him back and also sign Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Josh Smith. The Clippers bench is basically a starting unit for an average NBA team all by itself. The rotation is rounded out by Jordan Hamilton, C.J. Wilcox, Cole Aldrich, Austin Rivers and Branden Dawson.

  1. Golden State Warriors

The defending champs won their ring on the back of their versatility and depth. The Warriors retain Draymond Green, which leaves the starting unit intact. They also re-signed Leandro Barbosa and drafted Kevon Looney, who could be a steal as the 30th overall pick. With a championship run under their belts, the bench will likely continue to dominate moving forward, led by finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who stepped up big time when his name was called. A former All-Star, he rode the bench and contributed where he could. Then, when he called to guard LeBron, he performed admirably. The roster is rounded out by James Michael McAdoo, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

Let us know how you rank the Western Conference benches in the comments section below!

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

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

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

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

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

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

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

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

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

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

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

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

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

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

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

Drew Maresca

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

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

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

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

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

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

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

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

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

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

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

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

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

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

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

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

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

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

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

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NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

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

Matt John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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