If in 2011 someone had asked you to name the one team that would dominate the decade, you’d have emphatically said the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the greatest three year drafting run in the history of the league, the Thunder had assembled a superstar trio where each individual would go on to win an MVP award. There’s probably a better chance of seeing someone score 100 points in a game than seeing a franchise draft three MVP’s in consecutive years again. Unfortunately we never got to see what OKC’s young trio would look like playing together in their primes. You know the rest of the story; the Thunder cheaped out, traded Harden to the Rockets, and the Warriors became the greatest dynasty we’ve seen since His Airness laced his J’s up in Chicago.
That dynasty is over. Durant tore his achilles and moved to Brooklyn. Kawhi became Jordan 2.0 for two months and then moved to Los Angeles. And then we watched about a million other players change teams. Including…Russell Westbrook. To none other than…the Houston Rockets.
The Westbrook trade has allowed us to kinda sorta get a glimpse into what could have been with that OKC backcourt. Now, a lot has changed since 2012. Not only have Harden and Westbrook grown into different players with their added responsibilities, but the way the whole league plays has changed. And even though there will be differences in how this pairing is going tot play in the future, we can still look to the past to see how these two guys can and have thrived together on the hardwood.
Lets take a look at a few old OKC clips to see just what kind of things they did successfully together on the court.
In the first clip we get to take a look at Harden initiating the set off a screen(s) with the goal of Russ cutting off ball. OKC ran this set a lot to get Russ shots at the rim when the weakside defense fell asleep.
We again, see Harden initiating this next set. Harden calls for a screen from the big but dishes to Russ who runs a catch and go. The big comes up with the screener (Ibaka) so the weakside help has to cover the paint. Russ is attacking with a head of steam here and makes an easy read for the corner three. The second part of the clip we see the same set but now Harden’s man realizes he has to rotate to the corner to contest the three. Thabo makes an easy extra pass and Harden gets a wide open three.
In this next set we get our first glimpse of Russ running point. Russ puts so much pressure on the defense just having the ball in his hands here, that Mike Miller helps all the way to the nail to prevent Russ from getting into the paint. Harden trails here and Russ dishes to him on the wing for an open catch and shoot 3 that Miller can’t recover to in time.
One of the biggest questions regarding this pairing is will the Rockets put these two guys in motion more next year? This clip shows us how it looks when Harden gets the ball off said movement. Harden sets a blind screen for Ibaka in the paint and then cuts to the top of the key to receive the ball from Russ. Russ has the attention of the defense on the wing, so when Harden gets the ball at the top of the key, he can attack an out of sync defense. Now in Houston’s offense, Ibaka would have flattened out to the corner leaving Capella to finish the play with a more open paint.
Finally, we see Russ initiate again coming off a double screen. Harden then comes off those two screens to get the ball in position to attack to his dominant side. He’s able to get right into the teeth of the defense and make an easy dump off to the big. Capella and/or Chandler would finish this play as they are much more athletic finishers than Perkins was. Harden also has the option to hit the strong corner for an open 3, a staple of NBA offense.
This Westbrook/Harden experiment CAN work. They are both more than capable of sharing the floor and the ball together. Mike D’Antoni is a more creative offensive mind than Scott Brooks and the Rockets have more shooting than OKC ever had, so I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see some really fun sets with both of these guys.
With the dismantling of the Warrior Dynasty, the Western Conference is more wide open than ever before. That means this Rockets team CAN win an NBA title. It won’t be a cake walk by any stretch as the West is still as stacked as ever before. Every game is going to be a blood bath and there will be a good team who misses out on the playoffs. But the Rockets got better when they got Westbrook. Now lets see just how far two former MVP’s that are still in their prime and have a brotherly bond can take you.