Jan 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and guard Patrick Beverley (2) smile while playing against the Utah Jazz in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 103 to 94. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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With a new coach, system and collection of players, we explore whether the Houston Rockets rise or fade in 2016-17
Last Season 41-41, Lost First Round to Golden State
The Houston Rockets have been a mainstay in the Western Conference playoff picture for the past few seasons, including a Western Conference Finals appearance two seasons ago. While the Rockets still look like a playoff contender, on paper, the team took a different shape this offseason.
Lead by MVP candidate James Harden, Houston has welcomed new faces, while the rest of the roster forms to hopefully not be left in the dust by the rest of the West.
Dec 2, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) reacts after making a three point basket during the second quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets have a veteran-laden team that will keep them in games and contending throughout the season.
As of now, the roster and depth chart is beginning to take shape as follows (it should be noted that this is subject to change, of course):
James Harden is a top-5 NBA player, well at least on the offensive end. Harden, at 29 PPG last season, was 2nd in the league in scoring and is posed remain near the top again this seasons. Along with “The Beard”, new additions of sharp-shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, plus new coach Mike D’Antoni, could bring the Houston Rocket’s offense to elite levels – even for Houston.
It’s very well possible that this team could score 110 PPG. D’Antoni famously created a culture with the Suns and showed the league an offensive scheme that is highly respected throughout the league – even moreso in today’s changing NBA.
With Harden, Anderson and Gordon seeing a majority of the offense, veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer pitch during the continued development of Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverley and Clink Capela.
Oct 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks guard Sasha Vujacic (18) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Weakness: Defense, Defense, Defense!!
Ranked in the bottom six of the NBA in defensive efficiency and the worst of all playoff teams from last season, it’s no secret that the Rockets struggle on the defensive end of the floor.
Clint Capela, Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza are the only defensive names on this roster, while the rest of the team is primarily focused on the offensive side. James Harden’s defensive efforts are down right laughable at times and the new additions aren’t going to bring a defensive mindset to this team.
Along with the players on the court, coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t known for his defensive mind. While D’Antoni and his teams flourished on the offensive end, defense was their downfall and is the main reason there are no rings on D’Antoni’s fingers.
As fast-paced and offensive minded as the NBA has become, the Houston Rockets are going to need to be somewhat present on the defensive end if they are going to be a threat to the rest of the league. While they might be putting up 110+ points a night, they easily could be giving up 110+ right back.
Oct 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the New York Knicks at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Most Important Player: James Harden
New arrivals Anderson and Gordon could easily be in this slot, or perhaps Clint Capela in his 3rd year as he aims to replace Dwight Howard, but when you are one of the elite players in the league, you are your team’s most important player. And that is James Harden.
Harden averaged 29 points, 7.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game last season, that is a legit stat filler. As poor as his defense might be, this team goes as far as Harden can take them.
Combining Harden with D’Antoni may easily result in career numbers, in fact my prediction is Harden leads the league in scoring this season. Harden, his teammates and the league have extremely high expectations for the leader of this team this season.
The Houston Rockets’ offensive ability will carry them into the postseason, however they aren’t quite a contender and this season might be a big turning point for the franchise in which route they are going. Big numbers will be put on a nightly basis, but they aren’t contending for a title this season.