With the season rapidly approaching, the Houston Rockets are one of a few teams with a real chance to win a championship, however, there are still major questions heading into the season that will need to be answered.
The Houston Rockets made a major trade during the offseason and with training camp approaching quickly on Saturday, there are a few questions on the minds of the NBA community regarding the new-look team. Coming off another disappointing playoff series last season, the Rockets reloaded with a fury over the summer while the rest of the NBA seemed to be doing the same. With some personnel gone and new faces in the mix, many questions linger about how the Rockets will fare in the Western Conference this season. Three main questions will play a huge part in deciding the success of H-Town.
1. How much better will the Rockets offense be with Russell Westbrook?
Last year James Harden played a league-high 36.8 minutes a game and, as we all know, led the league in points per game at 36.4, which was only part of his MVP-worthy numbers. Many problems Houston had throughout the season came when Harden left the court. When Harden was on the court last year, the Houston Rockets had an offensive rating of 116.6 and when he was off the court, it dropped dramatically to 107.6.
This is where the trade for Russell Westbrook should have an immediate impact on the Houston Rockets offense. Westbrook and the Thunder had a similar trend last season regarding their effectiveness with him on or off the court. With Westbrook on the floor, the Thunder had a 112.4 offensive rating compared to only 101.4 with him on the bench.
This makes perfect sense, as Westbrook does everything well on the offensive end from scoring in the paint and dishing out assists to rebounding the ball. With injuries piling up for Chris Paul most of last year, Harden’s usage rate was the third-highest in the league. Now with Westbrook on the team, having another ball-dominant guard is doing to be a huge positive for Harden and the Rockets overall.
2. Will the Rockets increase their pace of play?
There is a common misnomer when it comes to the Rockets and pace. Since Mike D’Antoni is the head coach of the team, many believe the Houston Rockets are like his “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns. Last season they were actually the complete opposite, as they ranked 27th in pace of play last year while Westbrook’s Thunder were sixth.
Both Paul and Harden were often content on bringing the ball up the court and setting up the eventual pick and roll or isolation set. With Westbrook now on the team, we should see an increase in tempo, as this is one of his main strengths.
With increased pace, players like Capela, House and Gordon will get more scoring opportunities before the defense sets. This will also decrease both players’ usage because more people will be involved in the offense. Another benefit of a faster pace is Houston will be less predictable on a game-to-game basis because they won’t be forcing up as many shots at the end of the shot clock.
3. What will the rotation look like by the end of the year?
Currently, the Houston Rockets have 11 fully guaranteed contracts. As it stands heading into training camp, the starting five is projected to be Westbrook, Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela, with Thabo Sefolosha, Austin Rivers, Tyson Chandler, Danuel House, Gerald Green and Nene coming off the bench. The rest of the roster either have partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed deals, which means they can easily be cut without much of a hit to the salary cap.
Out of the prospects without guaranteed contracts, Chris Clemons has a real chance to be in the rotation going forward, especially if Gordon will be starting at the small forward position most of the year. Gary Clark played in a handful of games last year and it is possible he could fill in some minutes at the backup power forward position as well.
Isaiah Hartenstein and Anthony Bennett are the wild cards here, as their chances of making the roster comes down to how they perform in training camp and in the preseason. The starters and role players off the bench are pretty much set, but the end of the bench is where the real competition will be held.
This season, the Houston Rockets are expected to be at the top of the standings throughout the year. With one of the best backcourts in the league and a solid core, they are certainly a championship contender on paper.
If the Rockets can figure out how to maximize the effectiveness of their new superstar backcourt, they should be right there fighting for the NBA Championship come playoff time.