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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Stephen Silas: "They have strengths that other players don't have."

Posted: November 6, 2020 -- 3:42 p.m. CT

Stephen Silas is looking forward to coaching James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And, with good reason.

In the 2019-20 season, Harden and Westbrook became the first set of teammates to have averaged at least 27.0 points and 7.0 assists in a single season in NBA history.

Westbrook and Harden each averaged more than 30 points and five assists per game in February to become the first pair of teammates in NBA history to post those numbers in a single month.

Harden and Russell Westbrook are two of seven players in NBA playoff history with 100+ playoff games to have averaged at least 23.0 points per game, 5.0 assists per game and 5.0 rebounds per game.

"There is so much to be excited about those two players!" Silas exclaimed. "They are so dynamic. Over my years preparing -- and, I told both these guys this -- over the years that I've been coaching and preparing game plans against them. It's just a nightmare.

"They're both so versatile. They can do so many things on the floor. They make other players better. They have strengths that other players don't have."

Silas has coached numerous elite NBA guards during his 20 years of coaching in the NBA.

"I've worked with a bunch of guards," Silas commented. "I've worked with Luka (Luka Doncic) and Steph (Steph Curry) and Kemba (Kemba Walker); Baron Davis when I was younger. The common thing is you have to set up to where those guys can play to their strengths; but, they can also help other guys play to their strengths."

Silas doesn't envision making wholesale changes to the offense because he doesn't want to lessen what the two superstars do so well. However, Silas does see room for improvement.

"Not very many changes. Honestly," Silas said. "It's worked; and, that's part of their greatness. Like I said the Rockets were 6th in offense (last season); and, for me to come in and make wholesale changes that doesn't make sense to me."

Silas wants to add a few things to the offense which he believes will make life on the court easier for Harden and Westbrook.

"What I will do is try and make it a little bit easier on those guys," Silas remarked. "Put in a few little actions that'll make the defense have to make decisions; and, make them a little bit harder to guard. Be a little bit more versatile on the offensive end. Again, let those guys play to their strengths but make tweaks here and there so we can make that jump from being the 6th best offensive team to 1st, 2nd-best offensive team.

"Hopefully playing up the floor; letting those guys pass ahead and attack defenses before they're set. Getting defenses on the move early in the possessions and keeping them on the move that sort of thing. Not so much stand around kind of iso type stuff -- even though there will be that and there will be times for that because that's what they do well. But, I'm not going to take away what they did well as a group. I'm just going to add to it and enhance it."

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From what Silas has seen on film, Silas believes when Harden and Westbrook are on the floor together they excel when defenses are not set.

"When they're on the floor together; and, it's really part of a grander, more grand scheme and system. But, for me, both players are very good when the defense isn't set. So, figuring out ways for them to get the ball early in possessions to where they're not having teams load up on them or having a set defense."

Silas wants to push the ball up the floor via the pass rather than the dribble in order to lower the time defenses have to get in their sets.

"So, as the ball is coming up the floor, a little pass ahead; now, they're attacking gaps that are they're against a defense that isn't set. That's one way that they can both use their strengths and help everybody else get better because that's the way you get to your drive and kick game. Your drive, kick, re-space game. All of that.

"The other way is to skip the ball; so, as the ball is coming up one side, you skip it (to the opposite side in the half court) and now you're playing against close outs. They're really good against close outs where they can attack the gaps. They both pass the ball well; and, have spot up shooters on the floor. So, those are two ways that they can both play to their strengths in transition as the ball is being brought up the floor."

Silas does not want to rely on Small Ball and constant isolation offense; however, he does believe that style does have its effectiveness.

"In half court, allowing them (Russ and Harden) to have the space to do their thing -- whether it's isolate; whether it's cut; whether it's post up. Just making sure that the spacing such that teams aren't able to kind of lock in on what they're doing.

"I mentioned earlier -- as far as having little triggers and little actions -- so defenses can't get set. I think it's good for both of those guys because teams do have a tendency to load everything up on them or even double-teaming them as the ball comes across half court. So, making sure I'm putting them in positions where they don't have to deal with -- they'll have to deal with some -- but, not quite as many double teams and strategic things to take them out of the game."

Silas wants Harden to be Harden and Russ to be Russ.

"In order for us to win a championship, and, I told both these guys this: they have to be them. And, it's up to me that I can figure out ways for them to use their greatness and just be them. And, not need to feel like that they need to do more."

Silas said candidly, "It'll be on me; my staff; and the group to figure out the best way for them to be them and reach that championship goal."

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