The Houston Rockets are currently 3-6 and losers of four of their last five games, but they haven’t been devoid of any bright spots.
One of those bright spots is five-time All-Star John Wall, who is averaging 18.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds in 33.9 minutes per game. The assists total is the lowest of his distinguished career, but that should pick up in the aftermath of the James Harden trade, since Wall is now taking over as the primary ballhandler and facilitator in Houston.
As the 30-year-old sees it, that might be in the best interest of the team, as well — especially given the awkward locker-room dynamic after Harden’s offseason trade request and late arrival to training camp.
Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:
Wall and [DeMarcus] Cousins have been the players most disgruntled with Harden, and they didn’t hide it, league sources say. This should come as no major surprise after Wall and Cousins publicly blasted Harden following Tuesday’s loss. But there was animosity between Wall and Harden from the beginning of their relationship, league sources say. Wall still sees himself as a player who can be the face of the franchise and felt like Harden was holding him and the team back from reaching their potential, league sources say. As the days passed, the annoyance across the team only grew.
Poor choices and poor conditioning by Harden have undoubtedly prevented this Houston roster from establishing any chemistry.
Led by Wall, the Rockets did win their only game without Harden so far this season — a 102-94 decision (box score) over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 2. Wall posted a game-high 28 points (50% FG) and 6 assists.
New story on @ringer detailing the weeks leading up to the James Harden blockbuster, John Wall’s desire to be the face of the franchise, and why more trades could be on the horizon. https://t.co/S9ujnLeVTb
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 14, 2021
From a talent perspective, Houston is obviously worse off without Harden, a perennial All-Star and MVP finalist.
But Victor Oladipo, who the Rockets acquired as part of the Harden transaction, is a two-time All-Star himself at the same position, and it should make for a smoother fit in the locker room. In turn, Wall and the Rockets are hoping for superior team chemistry to win out.
Wall is out for Thursday’s game in San Antonio with left knee soreness, and Oladipo also won’t play due to the process of completing physicals for players in the trade. Starting Saturday, however, Wall and the Rockets will unofficially kick off a new era without Harden. Given the recent slump, there’s understandable excitement to see what the changes can bring, at least in the short-term.