The Houston Rockets come into the season with a new look, and there will be plenty of things to keep an eye on as the squad figures out its new identity.
The Houston Rockets made waves this offseason when they dealt Chris Paul for eight-time All-Star Russell Westbrook. The move formed the NBA’s first-ever backcourt comprised of former NBA MVP’s, yet the Rockets still have a lot of work to do to convince the basketball world they can make everything work.
Many teams have big question marks going into this season, Houston included, as so many stars have switched teams and whole rosters have had massive overhauls. The first few weeks of the Rockets’ season will answer many questions about what kind of potential the team has.
Here are a few of the main things to watch for as Clutch City tips off their season on Oct. 24.
How will the James Harden and Russell Westbrook rotation look?
Obviously, the superstar pair of James Harden and Russell Westbrook will start together, and rotations will change and evolve as the season goes on, but how much will Coach Mike D’Antoni stagger their minutes to ensure he is getting the most out of his two best players? It is undoubtedly one of D’Antoni’s most important tasks this season.
How the duo performs on the court together will be just as intriguing as how each performs when one of them sits on the bench. After an uninspiring preseason which showed he still isn’t totally settled into his new team, how will Westbrook look when playing as the lead guard?
Will he play more minutes with the reserves while Harden plays more with the starters? Will Harden thrive when Westbrook sits, or will he be better when they play together? Rotations and finding the best mix of guys will be a hot topic to keep an eye on in the opening few games.
Will Danuel House keep his starting role?
This ties into the Harden and Westbrook question, as the small forward position will likely affect rotations and the lineups with which they play regularly. Danuel House will be the starting small forward to start the season and Eric Gordon will be the first man off the bench, but could that change? House’s destiny is in his own hands.
This question creates extra intrigue after the Gerald Green injury. Does Houston have enough scoring power off the bench if Eric Gordon takes the starting role? Does starting Gordon with Harden and Westbrook make it too difficult to stagger the guards’ minutes? D’Antoni has already indicated he would like to have two of that trio on the court at all times.
Houston desperately needs a two-way player on the wing, especially considering the wing depth of many playoff rivals and the lack of size in the four other starters. House, after a solid pre-season, looks ready to make good on the faith Coach D’Antoni has shown in him with the decision to make him a starter.
Next: X-Factor and Defense
Who is the X-factor without Gerald Green?
Houston has options on their roster who can play a few minutes per night and fearlessly shoot, but can any of them lock down the role as well as Green? Will Daryl Morey and his fantastic analytics department track down somebody unexpected to fill the gap much like they did when they recruited Green in December 2017?
As of right now, Ben McLemore and Chris Clemons look like the two guys who could fight for regular minutes in that role, but it’s possible neither of them wins the role outright. Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Clark were regulars in the rotation at the start of last year as an experiment, but Morey sought upgrades when it was decided the young pair wasn’t ready yet.
Houston has 82 games to figure out their playoff rotation, and this won’t be decided definitively early on, but the experiments will be fun to keep track of in the meantime, especially if we see Clemons getting some decent court time.
How will the team look defensively without Jeff Bzdelik?
Bzdelik has done more for NBA defenses than most people know, so how much will the Rockets’ defense suffer from a genius like that no longer being on the sidelines? Early assumptions will be made and Elston Turner, the new assistant coach in charge of defense, will be judged from day one, considering the caliber of coach he is replacing.
Houston will play fast, shoot lots of threes and score lots of points. The offense will hardly ever be the issue, but the defense might be, which is why Turner will be under even more of a microscope right away. If Houston gets off to a sluggish start defensively, you can make a good assumption of why: The players may need time to adjust to Turner’s system.
Next: Capela, Harden
Has Clint Capela improved?
If you watched the preseason, then you already know Clint Capela has been showing signs of improvement so far. But preseason doesn’t matter much and neither does Capela’s improvement if he doesn’t translate it to regular-season games.
Capela appeared to play both smarter and harder in the preseason. He looks to be in tremendous shape, running between the rims faster than he has in the past several years and has passed with more accuracy and willingness than he has ever shown before. Ability and desire to pass, as well as conditioning, have always been weaknesses in Capela’s game, but he has All-Star written all over him if he can carry these improvements into the regular season.
Tyson Chandler is the perfect veteran to aide Capela’s improvement, and Capela already looks like he has emulated his play style and energy. We will know in a matter of a few games if Capela has taken the leap that fans are hoping for or if he has fallen back into some of his less inspiring habits under real pressure.
Will we continue to see Harden’s one-legged three?
Harden’s one-legged three was one of the biggest offseason stories after he said he was working on a new move. It then became one of the biggest stories of the preseason when he surprised a lot of fans by actually using the move in a game situation. One question remains: Will he do it in a regular-season game where winning and losing really matters?
The shot, make or miss, will draw a lot of criticism if he uses it in a game, and most are banking on him not using it, but it would be mildly shocking to not see it within the first few games considering the work he has put into it. It’s hard to imagine Harden spending his summer working on this shot just for Instagram videos and preseason games. One thing is for sure, Houston fans and commentators are going to go ballistic when he makes one.
Mike D’Antoni has a lot of questions that he’ll need the figure out the answers to sooner than later in the loaded Western Conference. The Rockets will begin their quest for basketball glory on Thursday, as they host the Milwaukee Bucks from the Toyota Center at 8 p.m. ET.