Russell Westbrook and James Harden have been two of the few superstars to remain immune to the NBA's load-management revolution. While minutes totals and games played drop league-wide, the two have remained bastions of stability for their franchises. They have topped 80 games played five times combined in the past four seasons and one of them has led the league in usage rate in each of the past three seasons.
But now that they share a team, the Houston Rockets seem determined not to overuse them. While general manager Daryl Morey wouldn't technically use the term "load-management" during an appearance on "The Dan Patrick Show," he indicated that the Rockets do plan to be cautious with their two superstar guards this season.
"We try not to label it or make it a big deal," Morey said, "but we have a great, great training staff, and obviously our goal is just to win the title this year. We're not looking for any regular-season goals. Everyone on our team's won pretty much every award you can except a championship, so yeah, it'll be a very put-together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April."
The idea of resting their stars more liberally has numerous theoretical benefits for the Rockets. The most obvious is that Harden and Westbrook are both used to dominating the ball. Houston will likely stagger their minutes as they did with Harden and Chris Paul in the past to give both extended opportunities to run the offense, and rest nights will only help make both feel more comfortable in their partnership.
But rest during the course of games matters as well. Harden and Westbrook are both notorious for their inaction off of the ball on offense. Houston's spacing took a hit in replacing Paul with Westbrook, and short of Westbrook vastly improving his 3-point shot, the simplest solution to that problem would be robust cutting from both of them. They are more likely to do so if they are rested enough to expend such energy.
Morey's ultimate point will be well-received. Harden and Westbrook have both won MVPs. Harden has been a top-two finisher five years running. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double three years in a row. But that hasn't won either of them a championship. A more conscious effort to gear their bodies toward the postseason might change that.