Will Pairing Russell Westbrook and James Harden Help Or Hurt The Houston Rockets?

Rockets Future Odds

NBA Championship (+800)

Western Conference Champs (+400)

Southwestern Division (-250)

Season Win Total: O/U 52.5

Odds from BetOnline

Can Harden and Westbrook Co-Exist?

While we don’t have anything recent, there is some intriguing data on Harden and Westbrook sharing the court.

During the 2010-11 season, the lineup of Kevin Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka was +13.6 points per 100 possessions during the 2010-11 season. Looking back, it’s almost insane that the Thunder let three of those five eventually leave the franchise, but the Rockets’ core is somewhat similar outside of having a player of Durant’s capability.

Clint Capela is arguably better defensively than Serge Ibaka was at the same age. P.J. Tucker is another reliable defender in the frontcourt and Eric Gordon is probably one of the best third options in the league.

Their bench is unproven and young, but they have length and shooting all over the court. So, if Harden, Westbrook, and Mike D’Antoni can devise a rotation and offense where those two are both handling the ball equally, this thing could work.

Potential Downsides

Even though this team looks really good on paper, there are a few concerns. The first is obvious. If Harden and Westbrook can’t even pretend to co-exist, it’s dead on arrival.

At his intro press conference, Westbrook said he is fine playing off the ball with Harden, but for this thing to work, Westbrook is going to have to have the ball in his hands a lot.

Westbrook is the weakest three-point shooter in the starting lineup, so against certain opponents, he’ll have to keep playing downhill and dishing to Harden, Gordon, or Tucker for the open three-pointer.

If Harden has the ball in his hands, it will have to be during the 13-to-14 minutes per game that Westbrook will spend on the bench. Add in down the stretch of most games and you start to see things working.

However, if Harden is insistent on Westbrook playing the Chris Paul role, it likely won’t work as well. Paul is an excellent three-point shooter, while Westbrook is an average to below-average shooter from distance.

There are other risks too. Houston is very top heavy offensively now, which will be easier to defend for teams with a lot of strong wing and guard defenders.

Defense is another potential downside, at least during the regular season. Harden and Westbrook will be putting a lot of pressure on Houston’s interior defense. Along with Gordon, it’s a pretty small backcourt. Defending bigger wings will be a huge issue for this team as currently constructed. Right now, the two LA teams would have huge advantages against the Rockets in a seven game series, unless Houston finds some cheap and reliable small forwards who can stay in front of people.


There are just too many questions with the Rockets right now to accurately project their win total this season in a tough Western Conference. They are pretty overvalued in their Western Conference future odds, because I think the Nuggets and Jazz are both better right now.

This and along with it potentially taking some time for Harden and Westbrook to get on the same page makes the Rockets a nice fade opportunity to start the regular season. The West is brutal right now and there aren’t too many teams opening the season with tanking in mind. At 52.5 wins, I don’t mind a small under play, but I think better money is to be made fading them ATS.