With a record of 3-1 halfway through the NBA’s restart, these have been the eight best Houston Rockets in the Orlando bubble.
The 113-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers marked the halfway point of regular-season action in the bubble for the Houston Rockets. With wins over the best team in the league, the best team in the Western Conference, and possibly the best offense in NBA history in the Mavericks, the Rockets have come out flying.
Mike D’Antoni has kept to an eight-man rotation so far, and to honor the coach who has unleashed one of the most unorthodox lineups in NBA history, we’re ranking the top eight Rockets of the Orlando bubble.
8. Russell Westbrook
Honestly, Russell Westbrook has not been that bad in the bubble, but for a player of his caliber, the Rockets were expecting more. His 25.7 points per game are second to Harden, but he’s doing it on 43.1 percent shooting, and his free throw shooting has been abysmal at 59.4 percent on 10.7 attempts per game.
The fact that Westbrook leads the Rockets with 39.1 minutes per game is amazing considering his late start due to a positive COVID-19 test. Being bad by Westbrook’s standards means he’s still an All-Star, but some rest for a bruised quad, the Rockets will surely be expecting more sharpness from their key offseason acquisition.
Westbrook is currently the only Rocket playing beneath their potential in the bubble, and since I’m sure he’s reading this, he’ll be extra motivated to show how wrong it is ranking him eight of eight.
Next: Numbers 7 - 5
The Top 8 Houston Rockets in the bubble: No. 7 – P.J. Tucker
For true basketball fans, there are never enough words to describe how magnificent of a player P.J. Tucker is. Sure, he’s not statistically impressive, but he’s 6-5 and will go to battle with just about anyone in the paint.
His 3-point shooting has been good in the bubble at 36 percent, but his lack of height limits his defensive impact and rebounding. Tucker has been fine, but his time in Orlando hasn’t been him at his best.
At 35 years old, his best days are behind him, but anyone his height playing his position is being given a thankless task. Appreciate P.J. Tucker while you can because he won’t be around forever.
6. Austin Rivers
Depth is not a weapon for the Houston Rockets this year, but Austin Rivers is doing his best to keep the bench afloat amid Eric Gordon’s ankle injury. Rivers isn’t just mopping up minutes even amid a shooting slump.
Austin’s plus/minus is second on the team at +3.8 and he has a defensive rating of 105.2. Rivers is never going to need to be an offensive force for the Rockets, but his tough defensive play will give much-needed rest for Harden and Westbrook, Eric Gordon when he returns as he tries to work himself back into the rotation.
5. Danuel House Jr
Since the restart, House Jr has been third on the Rockets in scoring at 16.8 points per game. House has become Coach Mike D’Antoni’s go-to wing player, and he has rewarded his faith by hitting 41 percent of his threes on 9.8 attempts.
To give that mixture of volume and efficiency from 3-point range some context, not a single player has averaged it this season. House probably won’t either, but throughout four games, he has, and he’s shown that he’s a player that Mike D’Antoni can count on.
Next: Numbers 4 - 2
The Top 8 Houston Rockets in the bubble: No. 4 – Ben McLemore
People forget, but Ben McLemore was a top recruit when he arrived at Kansas in 2012. After getting drafted seventh by the Sacramento Kings in the 2013 NBA Draft, he did what most Kings draft picks do and disappointed as he bounced around the league.
McLemore has always hit threes, and in Houston, that’s all they ask him to do. Since the restart, he has hit 56 percent of his threes on 6.3 attempts a game. The only thing that has slowed him down is his penchant for getting in foul trouble.
McLemore has averaged 4.3 fouls in only 22.1 minutes a game. Right now, the only thing slowing McLemore down is himself, which is as frustrating as it is promising.
3. Jeff Green
Jeff Green has been the anti-Robert Covington in the bubble. His defense has been suspect at times, but his shooting has been on fire. Green has shot 38.7 percent from three on 7.8 attempts per game in the bubble.
The veteran is always ready to catch and shoot and has earned Harden’s trust in the process. Green is going to need to continue to shoot well from distance if he wants to stay productive because of his defensive limitations, but he has been hotter than July since he arrived in Houston. Expect Green to stay hot through the Summer and into the Fall.
2. Robert Covington
When the Rockets decided to go all-in on micro ball, they identified Robert Covington as the key to unlock their most potent lineups. Covington has been tasked, along with PJ Tucker and Jeff Green, to defend the paint as an undersized center. At times hes looked like Bruce Lee as an undersized warrior who emerges victorious against a hoard of mammoth aggressors.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/06/0021901273/227/261ac107-8ab6-6631-80e0-a7fc54b61529_1280x720.mp4
Over the past four games, Covington has averaged 2.8 blocks and 1.8 steals while also posting the best plus/minus of all Rockets at a +7 in 37.1 minutes a game.
As great as Covington has been, there is room for massive improvement on the offensive end where he has only shot 31.8 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from three. If Covington gets hot from 3-point range, the Rockets very well may become unbeatable.
Next: No. 1
1. James Harden
Who else did you expect? The Beard has been electric in the bubble on offense but, most importantly, has played some of the best defensive basketball of his career. Over his past four games, James Harden has looked like peak MJ. Don’t believe me? Here’s Jordan’s stat line from the 1988-89 season next to Harden’s.
PPG APG RPG BPG SPG FG% 3FG%
James Harden 33.8 9.0 7.5 1.0 3.0 52.9% 35.9%
Michael Jordan 32.5 8.0 8.0 0.8 2.9 53.8% 27.6%
James Harden is one of the best ever, and he is absolutely balling on both ends of the court. Even when it seems like he’s been beaten on defense, he’s making impressive plays. Here he is absolutely ending Quinn Cook’s chance at self-respect.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/06/0021901273/423/72ea9aec-6f34-15c6-06ea-88e4ead62830_1280x720.mp4
Anytime the NBA’s scoring champion is playing defense like this, their team is going to be tough to beat. The Rockets will go as far as Harden can carry them, and if the first four games are any indication, there’s a good chance this ride won’t be over any time soon.
The Rockets seem to be right at home inside the NBA’s bubble. Whether it’s something in the water or a team meshing at the right time, the Rockets looked primed for a deep playoff run. As playoff seeding becomes more solidified, the Rockets will likely expand their rotation to keep everyone fresh.
Although knowing Mike D’Antoni, he’s going to want to ride with his eight best, and this group seems primed to burst in the bubble.