Now that we are a few years removed from the 2012 NBA Draft, it’s fair to start reevaluating the talent and determining which players are gems and which are duds. One way to organize those thoughts is to put together a redraft of that year, dropping players onto different teams in a way that explores how that draft could have turned out differently were guys drafted in an order of actual NBA success rather than how things really played out.
It’s all a hypothetical game, but we’ll be doing it all week. Today, we start with the 2012 NBA Draft, which turned out quite a bit differently than anybody could have expected:
#1 – New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis, PF/C, Kentucky – We might be only nine months away from Davis earning his first MVP award. The man is a freak of nature and clearly one of the best players alive. New Orleans got it right in using their first overall pick to select him. There literally is no debate here.
#2 – Charlotte Bobcats: Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State – The idea of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a good one at the time, but we knew then that he wasn’t going to be an offensive powerhouse and that defense would ultimately be his calling card. Lillard, meanwhile, has been pretty much the opposite of that, but his big-time scoring has been enough to make him an All-Star early in his career and one of the most exciting young point guards in the league.
#3 – Washington Wizards: Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut – Already one of the league’s best rebounders, Drummond’s draft stock dropped back in 2012 because there were questions about his motivation. That obviously hasn’t been an issue, and while Bradley Beal has been perfectly fine in Washington, Drummond is knocking on the door of All-Stardom, which is what inches him ahead of Beal in this redraft.
#4 – Cleveland Cavaliers: Bradley Beal, SG, Florida – If the Cavaliers could have ended up with Beal instead of Dion Waiters as their shooting guard of the future, things could have gone much differently for them in the years following that not-so-well-received selection. Waiters has been an effective scorer, but Beal clearly has a much higher ceiling. He did in 2012, too, but was off the board by the time the Cavaliers picked, so they settled for Waiters.
#5 – Sacramento Kings: Draymond Green, SF/PF, Michigan State – This is our first big jump of the redraft, with a former second-round pick leaping all the way up into the top five. Green was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate last year, and that paired with his ability to hit three-pointers makes him a very valuable NBA asset.
#6 – Portland Trail Blazers: Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina – It’s still not out of the question that Barnes could turn into the star he was pegged to be back at the University of North Carolina, but he’s on a deep Golden State roster that uses him well but sparingly. Had he landed in Portland in 2012 to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge, we might be talking about him as an All-Star talent today the same way we do Damian Lillard.
#7 – Golden State Warriors: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky – If everything else played out the same, the Warriors probably would still be just as good if it were Gilchrist in the lineup instead of Barnes. Andre Iguodala would be starting, but MKG would be a nice defensive specialist off the bench.
#8 – Toronto Raptors: Khris Middleton, SF, Texas A&M – Quietly one of the better scorers from this draft class, Middleton would have supplemented DeMar DeRozan rather nicely on the wing. Terrence Ross hasn’t been a bum by any means, but Middleton already is the steadier player. Consistency matters in the NBA, and this former second-round pick seems to get better every year.
#9 – Detroit Pistons: Terrence Ross, SG, Washington – Ross is known for his athleticism, but he’s a more well-rounded player than people realize. He’s respectable on both ends of the floor, and while his shooting is a little inconsistent at times he’s still plenty good enough (and young enough) to have himself a long and productive career in the NBA. That said, the Pistons wouldn’t re-do this pick for all the Hellcat engines in Detroit.
#10 – New Orleans Pelicans: Dion Waiters, G, Syracuse – The Austin Rivers gamble didn’t pay off, and while Waiters has been a bit disappointing as a former #4 overall pick, he would have been great here. New Orleans certainly would have been happier to pair Waiters with Anthony Davis than Rivers.
#11 – Portland Trail Blazers: John Henson, PF/C, North Carolina – About as long as a big man comes in the NBA, Henson has bulked up in the last few years and looks more like a respectable professional big man every year. Defensively he’s really shaping into a dominant presence, which is what Portland hoped for when they drafted Meyers Leonard here, instead.
#12 – Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky – Jones ended up with the Rockets anyway, but in this scenario they end up with him six picks earlier than reality. He’s versatile for a four, running well in transition and knocking down shots from all the over the floor. He also can bang a little bit and fits really well in that Rockets frontcourt. Injuries have been an issue, but he’s been good enough despite that to warrant a lottery pick anyway.
#13 – Phoenix Suns: Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois – We’ll see this year just how good Leonard can be now that he’ll get big minutes in the wake of LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure, but he would have gotten that opportunity even sooner in Phoenix. He’s really fast for a seven-footer and has the measurables to be really good soon. He’d have been a great fit for Phoenix and Jeff Hornacek.
#14 – Milwaukee Bucks: Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State – Injury concerns back in 2012 dropped Sullinger, once thought to be a lottery pick, all the way down to pick #21. The way things panned out, Sullinger actually does look like one of the top 14 players from his draft class, though it turns out the injury concerns have not been completely unjustified. When he’s healthy, though, Sullinger is a bruiser that should have a nice long NBA career, even if he never does become a superstar.
#15 – Philadelphia 76ers: Jae Crowder, F, Marquette – As a quintessential “3 and D” guy, Crowder has well outplayed his second-round price tag. Back then, the Sixers were looking for foundational guys on which to build their team, but there aren’t a whole lot of them left here for them at pick #15. Crowder at least gives them a really good role player to put around higher-profile players they’d draft in later years.
#16 – Houston Rockets: Miles Plumlee, C, Duke – It has been an up-and-down few years for Plumlee, but there’s no questioning the fact that he’s been a much better NBA player than anybody thought he’d be when Indiana made him a late first-rounder back in ’12. That pick was almost universally mocked, but now Plumlee’s athleticism and rebounding have made him a borderline starting-quality NBA center. He’d be a really nice backup to Dwight Howard were he in Houston.
#17 – Dallas Mavericks: Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina – We all know the big man woes that Dallas is dealing with right now, and while Zeller wouldn’t have necessarily made the pursuit of a big-name free agent center avoidable, he is coming off a strong season with Boston in which he averaged 10.2 PPG and 5.7 RPG. He’s improving and starting to live up to those high Zeller expectations.
#18 – Houston Rockets: Moe Harkless, G/F, St. John’s – He hasn’t gotten much opportunity to shine in Orlando thus far, but he’s still incredibly young and has more than enough talent to shine given the right situation (which Portland very well could be). That opportunity probably wouldn’t have come any sooner in Houston, but his mix of talent and potential would make him a great value here.
#19 – Orlando Magic: Evan Fournier, SG, France – Orlando is where Fournier ended up eventually, and we’ve already seen what a good fit he is there. Offensively gifted, Fournier isn’t necessarily a well-rounded player, but he knocks down threes and is aggressive attacking the bucket. He also looks like he’s got some room to improve as a player, which makes him a logical selection this late in the round. He’s a good balance between current production and untapped potential.
#20 – Denver Nuggets: Will Barton, G, Memphis – While he’s still thin as a rail, Barton’s athleticism and offensive talent make him one of the most intriguing talents in the second-half of the first round. He’s only just now being given the opportunity to play real NBA minutes, but that’s been enough to draw comparisons to Corey Brewer, a more than fair comp for a kid with his skill set. The team that finally gave him a chance to play, by the way, was the Denver Nuggets. In this scenario, he would have been given that opportunity a couple of years sooner.
#21 – Boston Celtics: Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut – Overwhelmingly underwhelming as a pro, the “jewel” of the James Harden trade has done nothing but disappoint a few years into his career. That doesn’t mean the skill set isn’t there for him to be successful, just that Lamb hasn’t yet done much with it. The Celtics in 2012 would have been a nice landing spot for him to find himself as an NBA player a little sooner. Who knows if that would have changed things, but Lamb and Thomas Robinson probably would have been a better haul than Sullinger and Fab Melo. Or not. Picking this late in the draft is hard, even in fictional redraft scenarios.
#22 – Boston Celtics: Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas – At some point a team has to look at the potential of a player like Robinson (who went fifth overall) and weigh that ceiling against the ceiling of other players, even if the floor might be a little lower than some of the guys taken after him here. He already has inexplicably been tagged a journeyman, but the talent is there for him still be something interesting. This late in the draft, Boston would have loved to have stolen Robinson.
#23 – Atlanta Hawks: Kyle O’Quinn, PF/C, Norfolk St. – Unlike with Robinson, the ceiling for O’Quinn isn’t necessarily all that high, but he’s already proven to be a monster on the block with enough muscle to hang with just about anybody in the league. The Hawks were in a weird place back in 2012 and could have taken a player at just about any position, but O’Quinn is the best of what’s left. He makes sense for a team who was facing some frontcourt uncertainty at the time.
#24 – Cleveland Cavaliers: Tony Wroten, G, Washington – It’s hard to know if Wroten’s success can be attributed to his playing for the 76ers or if he’s actually really good, but he’s shown enough to be drafted late in the first round, even with the injury that knocked him out for the bulk of last season.
#25 – Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Acy, F, Baylor – Acy has essentially carved a role for himself as a lifer third-string big man on non-playoff teams, which is no way to make an All-NBA Team, but that never was the plan for Acy. It’s a small miracle he’s been more successful than former Baylor teammate Quincy Miller, but there you have it. Acy is a survivor, and he’s done well for himself. He seems tough enough to make it in Memphis too.
#26 – Indiana Pacers: Austin Rivers, G, Duke – Had Rivers not flashed a little in this past postseason, he might not have even made the first-round of this redraft at all. His first few seasons in the NBA have been just north of disastrous, which many predicted coming out of college considering his lack of strength, height and athleticism. Still, he’s a resourceful guy and has carved a role for himself despite his shortcomings. Indiana, coincidentally, wouldn’t have been the worst spot for them to land considering their dearth of serviceable point guards.
#27 – Miami HEAT: Mike Scott, SF, Virginia – Were it not for this past summer’s off-the-court legal issues, Scott probably would have ended up getting drafted quite a bit higher among this group of guys, but no team wants to spend a valuable mid-first rounder on a troublemaker. Late in the first round, though? Scott’s a worthwhile gamble and a borderline steal for the Miami HEAT.
#28 – Oklahoma City Thunder: Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure – A floor-stretching four like Nicholson is a player with value for a number of different teams, but with the Thunder trying to track down versatile frontcourt players for years now, adding one like Nicholson makes some sense. He offers a good jumpshot and has some range, which would work well playing alongside other offensive creators like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
#29 – Chicago Bulls: Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina – Marshall hasn’t even been in the league since February, but he’s exactly the kind of established, older player from a respected college program that John Paxson and Gar Forman typically love. He’s had moments of productivity in the NBA (mostly with the Lakers in 2013-2014), and Chicago would love his pedigree. However good (or not good) Marshall may be, at least he’s not Marquis Teague.
#30 – Golden State Warriors: Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt – Let’s just keep Ezeli where is. He’s had some injury issues early in his career, but he has shown he can be a reasonable deep bench guy for a championship team, and at pick #30 it’s hard to expect a whole lot more from a player than that.
Tune in this week for redrafts of the 2011, 2010 and 2009 classes among others. We’ll take a long look at how history could have been different if teams only could have known how their picks would have played out.
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.
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