Prior to the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, the Washington Wizards sent John Wall and a protected first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook. The Wall and Westbrook trade made headlines across the league, however many analysts predicted its impact on both franchises was dubious at best. Kevin Pelton of ESPN graded Houston a C+ and Washington a D in his evaluation of the transaction.
During the events leading up to the exchange, Wall and Westbrook issued trade demands from their respective front offices. The market for two wrong-side-of-30 point guards with injury-concerns and maximum-contracts was limited at best. Even the usual suspect for coveting big-name players, the New York Knicks, expressed hesitancy and ultimately declined each proposition. That left a one-for-one swap as the only viable method of trading these two disgruntled talents.
Both teams scored a cumulative 1.7 score for on a 4.0 GPA scale from Pelton. Under his criteria, Houston theoretically “won” due to the first round pick they acquired in the process. But is it possible to assess a proverbial winner and loser when both teams found themselves wedged into a lesser-of-two-evils end game?
Why, of course we can.
And here is my take.
Wall Returns to All-Star Form
John Wall gets his first dunk as a member of the Houston Rockets. pic.twitter.com/XGmoCm8H7X— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) January 1, 2021
Wall debuted for his new club against the Sacramento Kings on New Year’s Eve. A left-handed spike in transition signaled his triumphant return to action following a two-year absence due to injuries.
After endless questions regarding the state of his world-class athleticism, Wall appears to have not skipped a beat. The zero-to-sixty speed is on full display, and so is the moxie. He’s back to blocking shots and getting into guy’s jerseys on defense. A sight for sore eyes given the torn-achilles recovery.
I would be remiss not to criticize Wall’s intensity during his last couple of seasons in DC. According to Zach Lowe, the former all-defensive second-team selection spent three-quarters of the 2017-18 season either standing still or walking while on the court. He was still making highlight plays, but when the offensive action did not involve Wall, he stood in place at half court or near the three-point line and did nothing. He also developed bad habits like reaching for steals when his matchup (inevitably) beat him off the dribble. It sounds an awful lot like his new backcourt mate, James Harden, don’t you think?
In spite of these past blemishes, Wall is playing exceptional basketball right now. If he doesn’t regress to his old tendencies, Houston undoubtedly fleeced Washington in the trade.
The Good, the Bad, and Westbrook
Bradley Beal on Russell Westbrook’s arrival to Washington;— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 24, 2020
“Just from a professional standpoint our work has been great every day, we haven’t had that I promise you in my nine years being here.”
(via @NBCSWashington, @cmillsnbcs) pic.twitter.com/KGQbZuANzx
Before last season, Houston acquired Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul and a chest of draft equity. By trading the 2017 MVP after one season, Houston seemingly admitted the Westbrook and Harden experiment was a failure.
Westbrook finds himself paired with another walking bucket in Bradley Beal. Optimists of the trade, such as myself, believe the duo will excel. Westbrook boasts a successful resume of partnerships with Kevin Durant and Paul George. We can split hairs on whether these tandems reached their potential, but the fact of the matter is that Durant and Westbrook led the Thunder into perennial contention in a stacked Western Conference. In their final season together, George finished third in MVP voting with Westbrook acting as the de facto second option.
So far, the results are mixed. Washington is 2-5 and Westbrook, a historically inefficient shooter, enters Wednesday’s action with the lowest effective field goal percentage (41.1) in the NBA among qualifying players. He’s taking fewer shots at the rim and attacking the paint less than ever before. This is supposed to be his bread and butter. More so than the triple doubles.
Still, reports of Westbrook impacting culture are glowingly positive. According to Bradley Beal, Wizards professionalism is better than at any point in his nine-year Wizards tenure. Considering that the franchise reputation for toxicity precedes them, Westbrook represents an adult inside a locker room in desperate need of a leader. In spite of his flaws, his intangibles are essential for such a young team.
(In Progress) Wall and Westbrook Verdict
After two weeks of play, Houston appears to possess the edge over Washington. That being said, both Wall and Westbrook each have contracts which extend until the 2023 season. So who is better poised for success moving forward?
Rockets General Manger Raphael Stone is still faced with a Harden trade demand. Although he is content at the moment and Washington General Manager Tommy Sheppard has no plans of exploring possibilities, Beal is the second most discussed trade possibility besides Harden. The ultimate direction of these two franchises, and the success of the Wall and Westbrook trade, hinges on the fate of these two shooting guards.
Ultimately, the Wall and Westbrook trade is a pawn in the chessboard of the respective Beal and Harden dilemmas. But what if Stone and Sheppard reconvene to exchange Beal and Harden?
Now we’re back to square one.