The Houston Rockets will have the second best record in the NBA, according to a projection from ESPN.
Many teams reloaded in the West in the offseason, and the Houston Rockets are no exception.
The seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors have sent the rest of the NBA into an arms race for star-talent. The Wolves acquired Jimmy Butler, Paul George was traded to the Thunder, and the Rockets sent a package to L.A. for Chris Paul.
There was plenty of movement in the West, but the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets remain the top three teams. With one caveat, the Rockets have eclipsed Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs.
According to ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM), the Rockets are projected to outpace San Antonio in the win column next season.
Although RPM was much higher on the Rockets than conventional wisdom, Houston still easily outperformed a 47-win projection. After adding Chris Paul, RPM now likes the Rockets as the greatest threat to Golden State. Remarkably, the additions of Paul and defensive-minded Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker mean Houston projects as slightly better defensively (fourth) than offensively (fifth). We’ll see if that plays out as projected.
ESPN’s projected wins for the Rockets is 55, matching there win total from last season. It’s worth noting that ESPN projected that Houston would win 47 games last season, which the Rockets outperformed.
Although the Warriors won 67 games last season, their projected win total has dropped to 62.1. The Spurs are predicted to win 52.6 games, a significant drop from their 61 wins last season.
Why the decrease in projected wins?
The Warriors and Spurs have lower projected wins because of age and increased depth in the Western Conference. Starting with the former, Andre Iguodala, David West and Shaun Livingston will be 32 years or older when the season starts for Golden State. In San Antonio, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are starting to show their age, with Aldridge being the youngest at 32 and Ginobili the eldest at 40.
With the latter, the Timberwolves, Thunder, Nuggets, Pelicans and Trail Blazers are predicted to improve from last season. Even the Clippers are projected to win 48.9 games after loosing Chris Paul.
The RPM predicted that Houston’s defense would finish fourth, a monumental leap from 18th just a season ago. The additions of Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker should definitely push Houston’s defense into the top 10, but I’d be surprised if they finished in the top 5.
Offensively, the Rockets have the fifth best RPM projection, a small demotion from last year’s second place in offensive rating. The Rockets struggled to score whenever James Harden took his customary rest, but with Paul now running the show during that time, Houston’s offense shouldn’t stagnate. Expect the Rockets to finish second or third at the least in offensive rating next year.
All things considered, the Houston Rockets can very well be a 58 to 60 win team next season if the Harden-Paul duo works out as planned.