For a number of years now the Houston Rockets would not just happily tell anyone they were the best team in the NBA, they believed it. The Rockets have seen themselves become the “always the bridesmaid” of the league; a strong 50+ win franchise, but when they’ve really needed to step up in postseason they’ve seen themselves fall short.
There can be no denying that the Rockets are a pleasure to watch if you’re a fan of isolation basketball. The Rockets are a rare combination of grit and flair, that have the ability to blow away any team in the West, led by a guard who can almost single-handedly dismantle the opposition on an average night.
Last season’s campaign began poorly for the Rockets and whilst they rallied to a 53-29 record, there can be little denying that the season was a disappointment, finishing fourth in the West and losing in six to the Golden State Warriors in the Conference semifinals.
The gamble on Carmelo Anthony didn’t pay off with the ten time All-Star struggling to make an impact, playing ten games and only starting twice. Alongside this, there were multiple reports of arguments and altercations between James Harden and Chris Paul, which played out as the backdrop to the season.
In a campaign with few real positives, Clint Capela proved a bright spark, showing huge improvement, continuing his progression and standing out as one of the best centers in the league.
Ultimately the team didn’t gel. Harden, Paul and Melo weren’t meant to be, forcing Daryl Morey to make drastic changes from a roster that had been first in the West just a year earlier.
It’s been a busy couple of years for the Rockets in the building of this year’s roster. In fact, the turnover has been so large that only James Harden, Clint Capela, PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Gerald Green remain from the 2017-18 season. In those two years, they’ve moved on from All-Stars Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has never shied away from recruiting superstars and this summer was certainly no different.
The headline news for the Rockets this year is the acquisition of perennial All-Star and 2017 league MVP, Russell Westbrook. Seven years on from Harden’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder, we see the band back together in Houston. A lot will be expected of the duo, the scrutiny around the league and from fans around the world will be intense.
Both players have evolved immensely since their previous time together at OKC, having each gone on to take the top individual gong – the league’s MVP award. What we have seen is an encouragement that both players want this to work. What’s more, their friendship is genuine and extends beyond their time in Oklahoma, all the way to South Central Los Angeles prior to their journeys in the NBA.
Their play for their respective franchises has been so dominant over the last five seasons that they are the only two players to score over 10,000 points. That’s an incredible feat, especially when you factor the dramatic changes and problems their relevant sides have had during that period.
The problem now is that the game is played with just one basketball and we have possibly the two most ball dominant guards. Something is going to have to give for this partnership to work and it will take a strong friendship to be successful.
For the offensive brilliance that Westbook and Harden offer, it’s nothing without the defensive grit provided by the supporting cast. PJ Tucker is a tireless player who plays every game like it’s his last and most importantly, understands the necessary individual sacrifices needed for the benefit of the team.
Clint Capela, one of the most improved centers in the league over the last 12 months, has proven himself more than reliable, playing more than 65 games a season over the last four years. His year-on-year progression in both points and rebounds has led to him averaging a double-double for the past two seasons. Like Tucker, Capela isn’t a player seeking highlight reels, instead, he continues to be the solid, reliable backbone to the side.
Eric Gordon, fresh from a new deal to keep him from free agency, has been a metronome of consistency since joining Houston, proven to be an alternate scorer to Harden and a rocksteady 36 percent three-point threat.
Austin Rivers, Danuel House and Gerald Green offer depth and a solid 8+ points a game – ideal fits for a side who led the NBA in three-point attempts last year, averaging 45.4 attempts per game.
1.The scoring threat
While stats will tell you that Westbrook just came off a wasteful season from beyond the arc (his second-highest ever three-point attempt season), making just 29 percent, he still offers a threat from three – but his strength remains the kind of paint penetration that is rarely seen in the NBA. This is a team that doesn’t shy from taking risks. With the addition of Westbrook, it will be a case of opponents needing to pick their poison when facing the Rockets.
2.Daryl Morey may have pulled a masterstroke
Two genuine superstars is a luxury indeed. Put aside the fact that you almost never see two recent league MVP’s or the huge contracts both players are on ($38m each) on the same team. Daryl Morey has kept Eric Gordon and still has both Clint Capela and PJ Tucker in Houston, all whilst keeping the Rockets under the luxury tax for the season.
3.A test of friendship
Whichever way you look at it, both Harden and Westbrook will want the ball in their hands. Both players have become accustomed to it, both players are comfortable with it and both players excel in isolation plays. They will have to show that sharing is caring and learn to adapt to each other’s play.
James Harden | 36.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg
James Harden is a force amongst men in the league. Superb ball-handling skills, instant speed, a threat beyond the arc and a menace in the paint all combined with an unmatched ability to get to the line. Harden can hurt teams from anywhere on the court.
Russell Westbrook | 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 10.7 apg
It’s become a surprise when Westbrook doesn’t complete a triple-double a night. A whirlwind of desire and competitive fire, Westbrook won’t shy away from any challenge. Next to ‘The Beard’ this is the scariest backcourt in the league when it comes to scoring threat.
Clint Capela | 16.6 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 1.4 apg
2018-19 was the making of Clint Capela. A season that saw his minutes increase to an average of 33.6 a night, he’s proven himself a cornerstone of the new-look Rockets. Capela has shown a consistent improvement in all aspects year-on-year, and another big season will be expected from the 6’ 10” Swiss. The sky truly is the limit.