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NBA 2015-16 Team Previews: Houston Rockets – The ‘Hard’en Pursuit

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets

Our NBA 2015-16 Team Previews continues with Houston Rockets and their Southwest Division opponents. Next up it’s time to break down the home town Rockets:

Record:  (56-26) 2nd in the Western Conference, 1st in Southwest Division, Lost in Western Conference Finals

Rank: Offense:104.2 (12th)   Defense: 100.5 (6th)  Differential/Net: plus +3.7 (6th) Pace: 99.3 (2)

2014-15

Key Stats:

  • Rockets committed the second most turnovers per game with 16.7 per game
  • James Harden became the first player since LeBron James (09-10) to average 27.0 points, 7.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds in 75+ games. He was also the first Rocket to score 50+ points in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996 as well as the only Rocket to ever record multiple 50+ points in a game in one single season. Further Harden became the first player to make 3 consecutive All-Star teams since Yao Ming who did it 7 times from 03-09). (as per NBA TV).
  • Rockets set an NBA record for 3-point attempts this past season (2,680) by over 300 attempts. The crazier statistic is Houston’s accuracy of 39.2% almost 4% better the best average of the top 3-point attempting teams in NBA history.
  • Daryl Morey’s analytical influence on the team is clear when you examine their stats. Houston led the league in percent of points created off transition (19%) as well as fewest percentage of their scoring coming from the mid range (11%) which was the lowest in the league and the lowest ever in the Association. (as per John Schumann of NBA.com)
  • Although the Rockets excelled on the offensive boards (5th) they tied for 22nd in defensive rebounding which is an area head coach Kevin McHale cited as being an area requiring improvement this season.

Off Season Moves

Key Areas Needing Addressing:

  • Starting Caliber Point Guard (and depth at the position)
  • Staying Healthy
  • Bench Depth
  • Lowering Turnovers
  • Increased Rebounding

Draft:   Sam Dekker selected 18th in first round, Montrezl Harrell selected 32nd in second round

Player Additions/Players Re-Signed:

Players Exiting:

2015-16

Core Players:  Ty Lawson, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard

Key Reserves:  Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela, Marcus Thornton

Outlook

Rising Star: Clint Capela played more playoff games (17) than regular season games (12) last year. He worked on his game this summer and added much needed muscle, but it’s the ease with which the game seems to come to him that impresses.

Factor in he has access to the triple threat of Dwight Howard (3-time Defensive Player of the Year), Hall of Fame player  Kevin McHale (one of the best centers to ever play, just ask Sir Charles) and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon (arguable the best all around center ever, at worst top 3) at your daily disposal and it’s easy to understand why Capela is expeditiously growing in leaps in bounds.

On The Bubble:   Dwight Howard needs to stay healthy this season for the Rockets to do serious damage. The stats prove how much he affects the game as the opposing teams score 6.4 fewer points when he is on the court and their defensive rating is 5 points better. Howard who became a player people loved to hate following this exit from Orlando and disagreements with Kobe Bryant on the court and Shaquille O’Neal off the court could argue he’s simply misunderstood. The reality is after the

X-Factors:  Donatas Motiejunas/Terrence Jones Ironically the 2 players who can offer x-factor intangibles play the same position and though they bring some similarities to the court it’s their differences that make them both so appealing. Motiejunas can stretch the floor with his outside shot and is equally adept in the paint. Jones added muscle and provides blocks and banging down low. Either can start and either can affect the game positively. Jones has had a productive preseason though he suffered another freak accident  leading to a short spell off the court as precautionary to the concussion protocol. Motiejunas hasn’t returned to contact work outs yet, but he’s getting closer. 

Both are entering their fourth season which means extensions (if the Rockets choose) will be forthcoming prior to November 2nd. Will Morey offer both contracts and which player will receive the greater amount or years? That alone could affect the production from the pair who both have shown themselves to be committed to growth and what’s best for the team. Then again dollars and cents have a funny way of changing a player’s mindset.

Best Case:  Consider this: the Rockets finished second in the power house West on James Harden’s and Trevor Ariza’s backs. Then they went to the Western Conference Finals missing their starting point guard and power forward.

This precipitated Daryl Morey retaining the majority of the core for the first time in years.  He added even more 3-point scoring prowess and drafted 2 players who could feasibly contribute this season.

Then Daryl Morey pulled a rabbit out of his hat by picking up Ty Lawson for a pittance addressing their top off season priority to upgrade their starting point guard and add a ball handler who won’t turn over the ball.  In effect Morey crossed off every single item on the team’s wish list. Sure the powerhouses of the Western improved, but it’s hard to imagine the Rockets can’t replicate and surpass last season’s win total given how they got there last season.

Still, they’ve been overlooked by most pundits who cite the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers as Western Conference favorites. Yet if you are a betting person you’ll rationalize:

  • The Clippers are a motley crew with LARGE personalities
  • The Thunder have to adjust to Billy Donovan and solve the Kanter defensive curse,
  • The Warriors will be playing in every team’s finals on a nightly basis praying the fact their head coach is the first injury of the season isn’t an omen
  • The Spurs have to integrate not one but two front court players into a high ball/player movement schematic who aren’t typically used to doing that.
  • The Grizzlies still don’t have 3-point specialists and actually picked up more elder statesmen this off season to add to their aging core
  • And the Pelicans will start the season where they ended it … with several guards and key contributors injured

Hard to not believe in the Power of the Pursuit!

Ideally the Rockets win the West, yet getting home court will have to suffice as I’m pretty confident Oklahoma City is determined to bring real storms to the court this season on their revenge tour. Hey second in the West served them well, so replicating that effort will be just as sweet.

Worst Case:  A person guilty of being overly superstitious would read into Dwight Howard’s continued absence in preseason games as an omen, but being an internal optimist the alternative is to believe this is a choice (hey, he is participating in practices so perhaps McHale is playing possum with the Rockets opponents).

Optimally the Rockets don’t want to put Harden in a situation to produce an exact encore performance with the same cast, so that has to be the goal. Morey did what was needed and now it’s a matter of believing lightning can’t strike the same place twice. Still, if the pessimists win this battle the worst case scenario would be finishing in the bottom tier of playoff seeds and having to face one of the Spurs, Warriors or heaven forbid the Thunder in the first round!

Prediction:  The Rockets will earn a top seed and improve in most statistical categories yet they’ll finish second or third behind the Thunder and possibly the Spurs. They’ll also overcome their historical issues beating Golden State this season. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors meaning McHale will need to rely on some of the youth brigade and reserve specialist to ease the load from Harden and Howard. McHale needs to take a page out of Pop’s book to make sure the Rockets arrive to the post season with fresher legs this year and if that means forgoing individual awards and ego’s, so be it… the ends will justify the means.

Key Dates:

  • October 3oth, first time Golden State return to Houston since beating the Rockets in the playoffs
  • November 2nd, Kevin Durant’s first trip to Houston since injury
  • November 7th, Rockets return to Staples Center to play the Clippers for the first time since their 19-point come back in the playoffs to force a game 7
  • November 13th, Ty Lawson’s return to Denver
  • December 19th, Josh Smith’s first trip back to Toyota Center
  • Christmas Day (December 25) versus San Antonio at Toyota Center in Houston
  • New Years Eve (December 31) versus Golden State at Toyota Center in Houston
  • January 15th is the lone trip of the Cavaliers to Houston (side note to Toyota Center locker room crew: fill LeBron’s locker with jock straps and smelling salts)
  • Martin Luther King Day (January 18) versus Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
  • January 30th: Wizards come to Houston (last year this match-up was down right chippy)
  • Easter Sunday (March 27th) versus Pacers at Bankers Life Field House in Indiana
  • April 3rd, ABC Sunday Afternoon Game – Rematch of last seasons epic battle between Harden and Westbrook

Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.

Next: Spurs Preview

Next: SCS Complete Round Table Sessions

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