For the third straight season, the Rockets will have a new point guard. On Wednesday, Houston shipped Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for veteran guard John Wall and a protected (quite heavily in fact) first round draft pick. Much like the deal that brought Westbrook to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul, the swap of guards was fairly straightforward with nearly matching salaries.
Both Wall and Westbrook are highly athletic guards with below-average distance shooting capabilities, though Wall did shoot well from the corners in his last season, which consequently was nearly two years ago. In December 2018, he had surgery on his heel and, during his recovery, ruptured his achilles tendon. All reports are that he is ready to start that season, but it is certainly a concern.
Ultimately, this was much the same as the deal to move Paul in that Westbrook just didn't work out. Though he and James Harden campaigned hard for the move to reunite childhood friends and former teammates, Westbrook was never able to fully mesh on the court. By the time the Rockets had a new GM and a new coach, Westbrook had asked for a trade.
The move for Wall made the most sense given the similar salaries. In truth, this is less of a move up than a move to the side, but there is reason to believe Wall could be a better fit with Harden.
First, while he does have similar athleticism to Westbrook (as much as anyone can have considering Westbrooks unmatched skills), he doesn't need the ball nearly as much. Westbrook's usage rate, which has become an important determining factor in how teams mesh players, was high last season, but not high enough for his liking. Wall, on the other hand, has never come close to the same usage rate as Westbrook meaning he can be comfortable without having to control the ball.
Second, while Wall is no lights out shooter, his catch-and-shoot as well as corner three percentages are substantively higher than Westbrook, who was abysmal from three last season.
In some ways, Wall is a bit like a mid point between Westbrook and Paul, neither Wall nor Westbrook were the most important components of this trade. That would be James Harden.
Since he came to Houston, the Rockets have worked to pair Harden with a suitable star-caliber player from Dwight Howard to Paul to Westbrook with varying degrees of success. It has at times led them to make moves that probably weren't in the best interests of the team. It could be argued that the deal for Westbrook was the one that finally culminated in a breakdown inside the organization with Daryl Morey and Mike D'Antoni both leaving the team this offseason.
It also meant dealing center in Clint Capela, who was moved to make more room for Westbrook's drives into the lane, ultimately ushering in the smallball experiment we saw in the second half of last season.
In those cases, this may be a bit of addition by subtraction, though no one can argue Westbrook's skills or pure desire on the floor. He just wasn't a good fit and now the Rockets are trying to dig themselves out of that without having to part with their main superstar in the process.
With workouts already underway, this is yet another change that new coach Stephen Silas will have to face, and it will be interesting to see how Harden reacts when the media gets their first crack at him. This was already one of the craziest offseasons in franchise history. And it just got wilder.