The Rockets are back. Houston is currently seeded in the middle of the Western Conference playoff standings now, and are zeroing in on the opponents who hold the 4 and 5 spots.
With our new improvements made recently in defense and play making abilities, I believe the Rockets are a more complete team than last year, and should have no trouble climbing to the number 3 spot (with the eventual hopes of taking the number one position again), in the coming games.
The Rockets Are Playing Defense Again
It all starts with the leader in James Harden, who is top 5 in the league in steals now. When your MVP is leading the league in scoring and is top 5 in steals, what more could anyone ask for from a player?
Harden’s teammates, more importantly, have taken the cue from their leader and followed suit.
Danuel House Jr. and P.J. Tucker are staunch defenders that now flank Harden’s rear on the perimeter, and Capela anchors the team defense down low, arguably better than any other center in the league.
As far as Houston’s bench goes, Green and Rivers have shown the ability to more than hold their own on defense, and disrupt passing lanes with their length.
Nene Hilario also adds a bigger body over Capela to plug the hole when other teams try to impose their will in the paint. He can also score in ways that Capela can’t.
The Rockets Now Have Five Playmakers
The Rockets already had Harden, Paul, and Gordon as their three primary playmakers. But, this proved to be insufficient when one player went down with injury, or went cold shooting beyond the arc.
Now, the Rockets have addressed this issue by gaining two more playmakers in Knight and Rivers. Of course, Knight is still not ready to play. He may never be a fit for their fast paced style again, for that matter, due to how much his injury set him back. But, he could be a valuable trade piece for a big man to shore up their rebounding with.
Austin Rivers has proven to be another genius signing by Darryl Morey. While the guy was a high draft pick out of Duke due to his 6’5 frame, competitiveness, and scoring ability, his shot has always had a hitch in the follow through, and perhaps that has cut his value in the mind’s of some fans and coaches.
But, Rivers is shooting over 30% from the three and, more importantly, he can make plays when the team needs it.
Not only has Rivers displayed some defensive prowess during his brief stint with the Rockets, but he has shown the ability to make the pass even better than Gordon has shown, at times, in my opinion.
Afterall, I have noticed time and time again the inability for any other player on the Rockets to throw a proper alley-oop to Capela other than Harden, and sometimes Chris Paul. The advantage Harden has is his strength to keep the defender on his hip and the height to see over their shoulders, which Paul doesn’t have.
For example, Paul cannot fake the lob and disguise it with the floater on certain angles like Harden can. But, Paul can throw unique dimes to Capela and others like no one else on the team can, except for possibly Rivers.
Rivers has already shown the ability to make nice drives, draw the D, and then creatively hit the open man. So, hopefully this trend can continue for the Rockets, and provide the team with more play making ability off the bench than last season.
The Rockets are back and are, in my opinion, becoming an even better and more complete team than last year. House and Ennis have clearly replaced our lost defensive pieces from last season, as well as added similar numbers in scoring.
Rivers and Knight offer two more play makers and contingency plans in case CP3 goes out with injury, and this is another dynamic that the team didn’t have last year. In fact, it is already proving to benefit the Rockets as CP3, as feared, sits out with another hamstring injury.
As a result, with their defense being back to 2017 levels (arguably better than that in the latest win streak), and their playmaking ability having drastically improved with the acquisition of Rivers, I believe the Rockets are now a more complete team than in last year’s heralded season, and are posied to make a run back to the top seed of the NBA’s Western Conference.