One of the league-wide truths from the past few years was that once Russell Westbrook’s legendary athleticism failed him, it would be a very painful demise. It was said that he didn’t have the shooting touch or smarts to age gracefully into his mid 30’s and still remain effective, having depended so long upon his other-worldly gifts to excel in this league. It was thus said for this reason that after John Wall, Westbrook’s max contract was the worst in the entire league.
Having been an NBA fan during this said period of time, I fully subscribed to the above-mentioned assertions. But my goodness, until I watched Westbrook night in and night out, with an actual rooting interest, I did not realize how bad it is or will become. It almost feels like there isn’t any aspect of his game that isn’t predicated entirely upon his athleticism, from his rebounding, to his transition attacks, to his mad dashes to the rim, to his woefully inaccurate pull-up jumper with defenders back on their heels anticipating his burst of speed.
I still get the reasoning behind the trade. The future is not of much import while living in the midst of The James Harden Experience. The thinking is likely that if the Rockets can win a title in these next two years, they can deal with the consequences later. And Chris Paul was no longer dependable. Daryl Morey possibly didn’t have much of a choice in the matter either with his franchise player so determined to reunite with his former running mate.
Even with his disastrous shooting, Russ can still help the Rockets in the present with his defensive rebounding, his change of pace, and–as I outlined extensively in a video thread on Twitter–his ability to provide Harden rest on certain plays. He’s still a blur and more physically imposing than almost any other point guard in the league. And right now, the future doesn’t really matter. But with Harden showing literally no signs of slowing down, one wonders how long this window will remain open. Once Westbrook’s athleticism starts to show some slippage, it could be ugly.