The NBA steals the headlines in the wide world of sports yet again, as the Houston Rockets trade for Russell Westbrook, sending Chris Paul and arguably the worst contact in the league to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the sports betting business, we should now be looking at how this impacts the Rockets chances of winning the NBA title in 2019-20.
Before this move, you could find the Rockets at +1400 odds to lift the trophy come June. Now, the Rockets are anywhere from +700 to +800 depending on where you shop. Odds are obviously cut in half, but there’s value there when you consider they’re still behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Let me be the first to admit that I was pounding the Rockets drum these last few years and even thought they would win the title last season. I finally sold my stock on this franchise and said if they couldn’t beat a hobbled Golden State Warriors team, they’ll never get it done. I gave up.
Well, I’m back on the Rockets bandwagon, baby!
The Rockets pretty much return the exact same team they had last season but replace a 34-year-old CP3 with a guy who is two years removed from an MVP and has led the league in assists the last two years. Yes, you can talk about the poor efficiency, questionable shot selection and the fact he’s coming off his worst shooting season of his career. Last year, Westbrook shot 42.8 percent from the field, 29 percent from three and 65.6 percent from the free throw line. Just awful. His 4.5 turnovers per game were also the third-highest of his career.
However, Westbrook won’t be asked to do as much as he was in OKC, as James Harden is there to shoulder a lot of the load. Harden led the league last season with a 40.5 percent usage percentage, and given that he’s the more efficient and one of the more dominant offensive players in the league, I don’t expect him to be the guy taking the backseat. The Rockets also have more reliable outside shooters in Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Austin Rivers, a foursome that combined for 589 made threes last season, so Westbrook should have far more confidence in his new teammates. More trust, less usage, friendlier offensive system, it could result in a more reeled in Westbrook.
The trick to making this work will come down to coach Mike D’Antoni and him figuring out how to balance two players who are used to having the ball in their hands at all times. However, we had similar questions when CP3 was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers. Two point guards, what are they doing?! Things worked out enough for them to win 118 regular season games and make deep playoff runs in two years. With more speed and athleticism to get his own shot and push the tempo a bit more, this should be a considerable upgrade at the point guard position. Paul had trouble beating guys off the dribble in the playoffs and went stretches where he was useless offensively.
It also opens the door for Harden to get more rest, which obviously helps come playoff time. Harden has a history of losing a step in the postseason and you can’t help factor in his ridiculous usage rate burning him out. This move could trim some of those minutes down and keep The Beard fresh.
The concerns with Westbrook have been beaten into the ground and there’s some truth to it. However, there’s no denying that there's oodles of potential here and MDA is the one guy who could make this work.
Looks like I’ll have another Rockets future bet in my pocket this year.