Daily Rocket Science: High Ceiling

There are just ten days left before the 2016-2017 NBA season begins, and the Houston Rockets look as prepared as could be.

Despite a double overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last night, the Houston Rockets seem to be confident and excited about playing basketball together. This time last year, James Harden was busy nursing a sprained ankle at various Kardashian shindigs while the rest of the team fought through a difficult preseason. Still, Red Nation was buzzing with high hopes for the would-be disappointing campaign.

This year, Rockets fans are a bit more cautious. Despite The Beard showing signs of focus and leadership and the new players acclimating easily to the environment in Houston, not many people believe the team will be too scary this year. While the Golden State Warriors look to be as dominant as ever, the Rockets have a chance to be a legitimately good basketball team.

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Houston’s trip to China gave the team some necessary confidence and focus to be ready for the season, according to ESPN’s Calvin Watkins.  Most notably, coach Mike D’Antoni was impressed with the play of sophomore Sam Dekker.

“Yeah, I think right now in our system, and it changes on different teams, in our system, I see him as a really good 4,” D’Antoni said of Dekker playing power forward full-time. “And he’s come on. He’s embraced it and he wants to play. If I ask him to play [small forward] or [power forward], it doesn’t matter. Our 4s and 3s are not that much different. He gives us a lot of power and a lot of speed coming off the bench on the 4.”

Matthew Tynan of USA Today wrote on why James Harden could put up gaudy numbers for the Rockets this year. For the first time in years, he’ll be the undisputed leader of his team. If he buys in to Mike D’Antoni’s offense (it looks like he will, based on preseason play), then he could assert himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

“Thirteen? Thirteen (Harden’s jersey number) is always a beast, man. Everybody knows that. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for it though. I don’t know why,” Patrick Beverley said. “Of course he works extremely hard every summer. I know his heart for the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had one of those years. We expect big things. Him getting MVP and leading us to a championship is very attainable.”

Pundits have had differing opinions on how the Rockets will fare this season. Some have the team will fail due to inattention to defense, while others praise D’Antoni’s unique approach to the game. Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes is a part of the latter camp. In his most recent NBA Power Rankings, he put Houston in the top ten teams in the league going into the season.

If you have James Harden and you hire Mike D’Antoni, you’re just fighting against the current of caring about defense. So by adding Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, the Rockets just embraced what they were. Maybe they won’t lead the league in scoring, but it’s almost impossible to imagine they’ll finish outside the top five.

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It would be a bit of a leap to make championship claims for the Rockets this year. However, it’s completely realistic to have high hopes for Houston this year. Having James Harden is a guarantee for a decent team, and having a refreshingly motivated James Harden is a guarantee for a good team. The rest is just icing on the cake.

With more elite shooting on the roster than there has been in recent memory and a coach credited with pioneering the current NBA’s play style, the ceiling is high for Red Nation.

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