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What the Houston Rockets need to take the next step

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets definitely have one of the most talented rosters in the league, but what does the team need to take the next step?

There are many famous uses for number 24. There is, of course, the 24-second shot clock, the famous 24-hour clock on the FOX thriller 24. (Jack Bauer needs to come back). For Rockets fans going into the 2019-2020 season, the number 24 is on the opposite end of that spectrum. It has been 24 years since the last Houston Rockets championship in 1995. The current iteration of the Rockets have been close but has fallen short. Of course, having one of the top 2 players in the league in James Harden makes you a contender every year. This article is about the other factors that make a championship team. With the trade for former MVP Rusell Westbrook and adding veteran Tyson Chandler, the Rockets are hoping this is the year they finally take that next step.

Houston Rockets Add Another Playmaker

One of the Rockets’ biggest issues since James Harden has been a Rocket is having another playmaker to take the pressure off of Harden. When the Rockets brought in Chris Paul this seemed to resolve that issue. In the 2017-2018 season, the Rockets finished with a franchise-best 65 wins and came within one game from going to the Finals. Of course, we all know last year was a slow start and Paul was in and out of the lineup all year. In the playoffs, there was evidence that Paul, who is still a great leader and distributor, just couldn’t beat anyone off the dribble anymore.

In steps Westbrook the former MVP (I know Rockets fans) and triple-double machine. With Westbrook, the Rockets get a dynamic open court player that can take any defender off the dribble and get to the basket. The common perception is that the Rockets run at a fast pace which is not true. According to Basketball-Reference, the Rockets were 26th in pace. Westbrook should definitely help with this. The Rockets are also getting one of the best rebounding players in the league. This helps a team like the Rockets who were bottom of the league in rebounding last season.

More than anything it helps relieve the stress off of Harden who at times had to make all the plays down the stretch in the playoffs. No matter how great you are opposing teams can game plan for you and take the ball out of your hands. With another playmaker on the team that strategy won’t work.

Role Players Stepping Up.

Superstars are the key to winning in the NBA but they can’t win it alone. The Rockets come into the new season with most of their core intact. There is the all defensive, corner 3 expert P.J. Tucker. The former 3-point champion Eric Gordon just sign a new deal this offseason that would presumably keep him here for the foreseeable future.  One of the best sixth men in the league Austin Rivers is back for another year. These players are rock solid and you know exactly what they bring. The wildcards on the team are Danuel House and Clint Capela.

Last year was an up and down season for Capela. He started the season slow and seemed a step behind on switches and recovering at the basket. Once he finally started to get it going he suffered a right thumb injury on January 13th that kept him out several weeks.

Clint Capela out four to six weeks, source said. @wojespn reported first. Capela suffered ligament damage in his right thumb in third quarter last night in Orlando.

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 14, 2019

Once he came back his up and down season continued into the playoffs and culminated with a disappointing showing vs the Warriors. For the Rockets to take the next step Capela has to get back to the borderline All-Star play he had in 2018.

The story of Danuel House was a strange one last year. Starting the season in the G-League House showed that he belongs on an NBA roster. Once he was brought up he showed flashes of athleticism, great outside shooting and an ability to get to the basket. The strange part comes in as the Rockets and House could not come to an agreement on a long-term contract. After going back down to the G-League, House continued to impress and was eventually brought back. Unfortunately, he was not the same player as he looked lost at times and out of rhythm.

For the Rockets to challenge for the best record they will need House to continue to improve his game and become the starting small forward. Improvements in defense and consistent shooting are his two main areas of focus.

Improve overall team defense and rebounding

The Rockets were a middle of the pack defense last year (110.7 defensive rating) but vs the Warriors, they did not get enough stops down the stretch and couldn’t rebound when they did get stops. As mention above they were a bottom tier rebounding team (28th in rebounding). For the Rockets to advance they need overall team defense improvement across the board and improved rebounding. With the addition of Westbrook, he can help but he won’t solve all the issues. To win in the playoffs at a high level you can’t give up second-chance points especially when it comes down to one possession most of the time.

3 goals for Austin Rivers in the 2019-20 season. Next

The 2019-2020 season will be wide open this year with changes all across the league. The Rockets are in prime position to take that next step this year. With no Durant in Golden State, none of the teams the Rockets will face this year will be on the same level as those Warriors teams. With improvements from core players and an upgrade at point guard, the Rockets could be hoisting the championship trophy in 2020. Let the games begin!

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