Russell Westbrook was one of the players most responsible for the growth of basketball in Oklahoma City. The former UCLA star helped transform the franchise into a winner, making eight All-Star teams and winning the NBA MVP Award as a member of the Thunder in 2017. But the partnership all came to a halt this past summer, when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul and future draft considerations.
Westbrook makes his return to Oklahoma City on Thursday night, and he is likely to receive a hero’s welcome (rightfully so) from the fans.
However, in hindsight, is it possible that Thunder fans have reason to be happy with the Westbrook trade?
CP3 has played his part to perfection
Paul is one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, but the common consensus entering this season was he could no longer stay fully healthy or put up the same kind of numbers he posted as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
No, Paul was merely supposed to bridge the gap until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (whom the Thunder acquired in the Paul George deal) was ready to steer the ship.
But less than halfway into the season, Paul has been far better than anticipated. The 34-year-old is averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds while shooting more efficiently and picking his spots. Paul has allowed Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to seek out their own offense while still running the show. Paul has also been one of the best clutch players in the NBA.
As a result, the Thunder are outperforming expectations. Oklahoma City find themselves in seventh place in the Western Conference after a 21-16 start.
Ys, Paul has a hefty contract. But the Thunder also have a plethora of future options, and Paul has inspired youngsters like Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley.
Will Westbrook get a ring?
Westbrook, meanwhile, has essentially performed according to expectations…at least on the surface. He is averaging 24.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists, but is also shooting just over 23 percent from deep.
Interestingly enough, Westbrook actually has a higher usage rate playing alongside James Harden than he did in his final season with the Thunder. However, his assist percentage has plummeted, and he has a negative offensive box plus-minus, according to Basketball Reference.
None of these numbers will matter if the Rockets hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Houston (24-11) are third in the West entering Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, and there is every reason to believe they could pose a serious threat as title contenders.
But Westbrook needs to perform up to his old standards in order for that to become a reality.
Who really won the trade?
It is still to early to answer that question. The Rockets could stampede their way to a championship, while Paul and the Thunder could trend in the other direction.
However, judging by early returns, the Thunder get high marks here. Yes, they had to absorb Paul’s massive salary, but he has been everything and more while also keeping Oklahoma City in contention.