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Starting Five Matchup: Houston Rockets vs Team USA

Thunder guard Chris Paul and Rockets guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the USA National Team (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Thunder guard Chris Paul and Rockets guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the USA National Team (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Coming off Team USA’s first loss in 78 games it’s only natural to think about how they would match-up against the Houston Rockets current roster.

This is not the Redeem Team. The presently constructed Team USA only touts one member of last season’s three All-NBA teams and is one of the weakest outfits in recent memory. This is not a knock on those that made the finalized roster. With all the roster restructuring that took place this summer, many stars wished to spend their off-season building chemistry with new teammates. Is there a chance that the Houston Rockets could defeat this depleted Team USA roster?

Following an injury to Kyle Kuzma, Team USA’s 12-man roster is now without a true power forward. This means a lot of Harrison Barnes (who has manned the position for 49 percent of his career NBA minutes), Khris Middleton (19 percent of NBA minutes), and Jayson Tatum (16 percent of NBA minutes) will spend plenty of time playing the four. This seems a lot like the roster make-up of the Houston Rockets.

P.J. Tucker is the only natural power forward, if you can call him that, expected to be in the Rockets’ rotation to start the season and he is undersized for the position at 6’6″. A match-up of the two projected starting fives would make an interesting game to watch.

Going with a projected starting five for the Rockets of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Danuel House, Tucker, and Clint Capela and starting five for Team USA of Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Middleton, Barnes, and Myles Turner, at guard is where the Rockets hold a clear edge. The two MVPs are the league’s new top guard duo and that would still hold true against Team USA.

With 14 All-NBA selections between the two of them, Harden and Westbrook are simply on another plain than Walker and Mitchell. Walker has been forced to live out his eight-year career for eight mediocre-at-best Charlotte Hornets (and Bobcats) teams while Mitchell is trying to find more efficiency going into his third NBA season. Even with Westbrook’s shooting struggles last season, the Rockets’ duo still grabs the title of better passers and rebounders. In a different world, there is a solid chance Houston’s two guards are the starters for Team USA.

The only thing Walker and Mitchell can take in this match-up is defense. Both graded out higher in FiveThirtyEight’s DRAYMOND metric while Mitchell has been a cog in the Utah Jazz‘s elite defense the last two seasons. Westbrook and Harden may end up with better steals numbers, but it is largely due to gambling to get in passing lanes and both are have been known to ball watch at that end of the court.

When moving to the forward positions, Middleton is definitely the star man of the four player group. The Milwaukee Buck‘s forward is coming off his first All-Star appearance for a team that won the most games in the league. Barring injury, he will likely be selected again this coming season. His forward partner in Barnes may be overpaid, but the man was part of the original Death Lineup and this isn’t even his first go-round with Team USA. Anyone that can persuade multiple teams to hand him an $80+ million contract is doing something right in the league.

Even with Tucker’s defensive chops, the Rockets just wouldn’t have the firepower to win this part of the roster. Tucker is one of the most respected defenders in the league at the moment, but his offensive game is limited to spot-up opportunities. House is in a similar position. His value mostly comes from his defensive versatility, but he is a little more dynamic off the dribble. The problem is neither is the kind of the player you would want to be making plays down the stretch on offense.

The match-up of centers is the closest among the three groups. Capela made the jump last season into the NBA’s top 10 centers. He shot over 60 percent from the field for the third straight season while averaging career highs in points (16.6) and rebounds (12.7) per game. Although another step will likely be needed this season, he is still a premier rim running center who can defend on the perimeter as well as any NBA center.

Turner on the other-hand fits into the mold of the modern 3-and-D center. He blocked the most shots in the NBA last season while knocking down 38.8 percent of his 3-pointers. While taking up yoga gave him the flexibility to be more effective in space, he struggles in many of the same ways as Capela when trying to create his own looks. More than 75 percent of his shots last season went up without putting the ball on the floor.

All in all, the Houston Rockets would likely have the advantage in a match-up against the current Team USA. The advantage the guards have would carry them much like it will in the 2019-20 season. The remaining starters jobs will come down to covering on defense and hitting open shots.

Next. 12 games you can’t miss in the 2019-20 season

The Beard and the Brodie are also a little more talented than Team USA’s new nemesis.

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