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Four questions on how Russell Westbrook can help the Wizards from The Dream Shake

We spoke with Jeremy Brener of The Dream Shake, SB Nation’s Houston Rockets blog.

2020-21 Washington Wizards Content Day
Russell Westbrook likes going 1,000 miles an hour. But he needs to slow down, sometimes.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Russell Westbrook’s presence on the Washington Wizards has given the team a new shot in the arm, and a legitimate chance at a playoff berth next season. But we also have to reconcile the recent MVP’s talent with the perception that he is a stat gunner and a ball hog.

To help us, we had a Q&A with Jeremy Brener from The Dream Shake, SB Nation’s Houston Rockets blog. It is below.

Bullets Forever: The Rockets were playoff bound with the Russell Westbrook/James Harden backcourt last season and they had many positive moments despite some of the negative perceptions Westbrook had. Do you feel that a Westbrook and Beal backcourt could do better this season in the East?

Jeremy Brener: It depends how much Beal is willing to play off ball. One of the primary reasons Westbrook wanted to leave Houston was to return to a primary “floor general” role on the court. With John Wall injured over the past two seasons, Beal has been that guy for the Wizards and it’s drummed to the tune of 30 points per game. Beal’s numbers should take a dip this season, but not too much. Harden and Westbrook were able to average over 60 points per game last season.

In the East, I feel like the Wizards’ ceiling is seventh at best though. The Nets, Celtics, Bucks, Heat, Sixers and Raptors are all still, without a doubt, better than them.

The question is, in a contract year, how is Beal going to feel about a dip in production for a team that might be better than last season but is still far from sniffing contender status.

BF: I still can’t get over this, but what seems to be behind Westbrook’s rebounding numbers, especially since he is under 6’6? Stat hawking may be part of it but there has to be more!

When you play small like the Rockets did for much of last season, everyone has to be fighting for boards. Westbrook is someone who wants the ball in his hands and he puts in a lot of effort for every loose ball. That’s what’s so great about a guy like Russ. He’s going to give you everything he has every night.

It can also be a detriment though as we saw in the bubble. He returned from injury probably too early than he should have because he wanted to be out there for the playoffs and he turned into somewhat of a liability.

BF: Westbrook wanted a trade out of Houston last month along with Harden who is still there for now. It’s more because of the recent GM change, right? I don’t think Westbrook and Harden disliked each other.

JB: At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. A rumor floated around that they weren’t given a say in the hiring of new General Manager Rafael Stone. There’s also rumors that say he is unhappy with ownership and that he wants to win a ring and that he and his teammates don’t get along. There are so many rumors and wrinkles to the story that we don’t even know what’s true or false anymore.

If I had to guess the events, it would be this:

Mike D’Antoni left and Daryl Morey resigned. Two of James Harden’s biggest supporters left him high and dry. Why did they leave? Likely because the Rockets ownership disagreed with their direction of how they wanted to do things. There was probably some stuff said behind closed doors that soured the relationship. Whether it had to do with money or not is unsure.

Then, in turn, the two of them spoke with Harden and it soured the organization’s relationship with Harden. Then, Harden wants out, which means in turn, Westbrook wants out.

The news first broke that Westbrook wanted out, which is why he was the first to be traded. Last man in, first man out. With Harden, it’s a little trickier since he is the three-time reigning scoring champion and is the primary reason the Rockets are the only team to make it to the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons. There also isn’t a package significant enough for the Rockets to think about biting for a Harden trade, though they might be losing value out of him and running out of time.

BF: The Wizards needed defense all around this offseason. With Westbrook; he has the ability to be a great perimeter defender though he hasn’t been named to the All-Defense team yet. Could he be able to do that in DC this year Since the East is weaker?

JB: Westbrook is much more focused on the offensive end of the floor. The Rockets had the “best defense in the bubble” because Westbrook was injured and it allowed the Rockets to plug in better defenders.

Wall is a better defender than Westbrook, so the Wizards should focus on beating teams in shootouts rather than trying to win on the defensive end of the floor.