Houston Rockets: 2016-17 season in review

Mar 24, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni points towards guard James Harden (13) after a play during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-17 NBA season has ended for the Houston Rockets. Let’s take a look back at the year that was in Houston.

Talk about going quietly in to the night. The Houston Rockets ended their 2016-17 season with one of the more shocking blowout losses in NBA history, as they lost in Game 6 at home to the San Antonio Spurs, 114-75.

With that loss, the season has no concluded for the Rockets, as they face an offseason that could go in various directions. However, we will leave the discussion of the offseason for a detailed post later. Today, let’s take a look back at the Rockets’ seasons, from the memorable highs to the (hopefully) forgettable lows.

After a highly criticized 2016 offseason in which the Rockets brought in Mike D’Antoni as head coach alongside Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Nene, the team won 55 games and finished as the third seed in the Western Conference.

This of course, was after the Vegas odds placed their win total over/under at 41.5 games. Many analysts and fans predicted the Rockets would be lucky to finish above the seventh seed in the conference due to their one-sided style of play.

Well, the Rockets finished with the second-best offense in the league and the 18th best defense in the league, just 0.1 points per 100 possessions short of having a league-average defense.

Of course, Houston was led by MVP candidate James Harden, who transformed not only in to a full-fledged point guard, but also an admirable leader of the team. Harden put up historic numbers, and gone were the days of questionable leadership or clashing with teammates, which was a relief to any Rockets fan.

You can’t talk about the Rockets’ season without commending the job that Daryl Morey did in free agency to acquire shooters to spread around Harden and D’Antoni’s free-flowing, fast paced system. Gordon (75 games), Anderson (72 games), and Nene (67 games) all stayed relatively healthy and found their place on the team in no time.

Gordon was (and is) a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year after leading a very good Rockets bench unit for the majority of the season, while Anderson slotted in as the perfect stretch-4 that Morey had been dreaming about for years. Meanwhile, Nene filled in as a backup big that provided leadership, intensity and polished offensive skills.

A fun, successful season

The Rockets are familiar with winning in the regular season. After all, the team has won 54+ games in three of the past four seasons. However, this year they won games by playing a style of basketball that was incredibly fun to watch.

The Rockets were never truly out of any game given the volume of three-pointers they attempted (over 40 per game!), making unlikely comebacks like this mid-December win over the Timberwolves truly remarkable:

That win was also the Rockets’ ninth straight to start December, a month they would end up going 15-2 as they jumped to the upper echelon of teams in the NBA.

The Rockets also posted another nine-game winning streak that lasted until the middle of January, but from then on, they began to show inconsistency the rest of the regular season, which continued to plague them in the playoffs.

However, there were countless MVP performances from Harden and scorching shooting nights from Houston to enjoy throughout the regular season, as this was one of the most fun Rockets teams in recent memory.

For the fans, after the disastrous 2015-16 season, this season’s team was a gift that kept on giving. Of course the season ended in extremely disappointing fashion, but the Rockets will continue to win a whole lot of games while playing a fun style of basketball next season.

Moving forward

Now the Rockets turn their attention to the offseason, one that could go in various directions. Was the Game 6 blowout loss to the Spurs an extremely disappointing end to a season? Absolutely. Does it mean that Harden isn’t a star or that Mike D’Antoni’s style of play can’t win when it counts? Absolutely not.

As I will detail in an offseason preview next week, the Rockets are in fairly flexible financial shape with their entire rotation (minus Nene) still under contract. They’re going to be fine.

Remember, this was Harden’s first season at point guard playing with several new teammates and a new coaching staff. Could it be possible that we see an even better version of Harden next season? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t rule it out of the equation.

In the end, this team exceeded everyone’s expectations, had frontrunners/candidates for several individual awards, and were a lot closer than people realize to a Western Conference Finals berth. Despite the way it ended, this was a fun, successful season for the Houston Rockets.

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