Since trading lead big man Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks, the Houston Rockets have taken small ball to new heights, using P.J. Tucker — who usually plays as a hybrid forward — at center.
And with the Rockets’ new system in place, Russell Westbrook has arguably benefited the most. Ahead of the Rockets’ game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens praised Westbrook for his driving ability, one of the best attributes of his game.
The Rockets and Celtics will tip off at 8:30 p.m. Central time at Toyota Center in Houston, with the game nationally televised on TNT.
Here’s what Stevens said, per Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston.
[James] Harden draws so much attention, when you are scrambling out, you gotta guard a guy that’s a jet engine flying into the paint. It’s just hard. It’s tough. He’s really good.
Westbrook has had perhaps his best stretch of the season over the past 10 games, using his ability to burst into the lane for easy buckets. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Westbrook has scored 234 points in the paint the past 10 games.
The only other player to accomplish the feat in the last 20 seasons is Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal. According to NBA.com, Westbrook leads the NBA in drives per game this season at 20.3. He ranks third in points in the paint behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Montrezl Harrell.
Capela didn’t play his last three games in Houston because of a heel injury, and the Rockets have now had three full games since the trade.
In moving toward small ball and ditching the role of a traditional center, Westbrook and the Rockets have found more space to drive and create an assortment of mismatches. Westbrook is averaging 33.5 points in his last four games, along with 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
For the 2019-20 season overall, Westbrook (27.0) ranks second on the Rockets in scoring behind Harden (35.2), while the former MVPs are tied for the team lead in assists at 7.3 per game.