The Houston Rockets have gotten off to a slow start but that shouldn’t last long. These are seven bold predictions for the Rockets in the 2020-21 season.
The Houston Rockets may have started the season with two losses but fans should remain optimistic about their chances this season. The team was without three veterans, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon, due to COVID protocols and they lost to two playoff teams in the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets.
Their opening draw was incredibly tough and the early returns show a team that is capable of outscoring any opponent. James Harden has been magnificent, Stephen Silas’s offense looks to be legit, and Christian Wood is making his case as the steal of free agency.
No team wants to be winless, but that shouldn’t last long when the Rockets finally get back to full strength. Few teams can weather the departure of three players expected to feature heavily in your rotation and the Rockets are a possession away from being 1-1.
The Rockets are going to be a good team this year and have every chance to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. If the early-season standings are any indication, the Cleveland Cavaliers are undefeated and the Milwaukee Bucks are 1-2, no team is going to run away with their conference.
The 2020-21 NBA season is setting up to be one of the strangest in history and the Rockets are well-positioned to capitalize on all the chaos. Sure, James Harden wants to be traded, but he hasn’t yet, and as long as he’s a Rocket the team can beat anyone at any time.
The season is young and the Rockets have a strong team that can make some noise this season. This is the time of the year to be optimistic and bullish about the Rockets’ chances. These are seven bold predictions for the Rockets this season.
Next: Bold prediction No. 7
#7: Christian Wood will make the All-Star team
The season has barely started but Christian Wood has made the Rockets’ three-year $41 million commitment to him look like a masterstroke. Through two games he is averaging 27 points and eight rebounds per game on a scorching 57.1-percent shooting from 3-point range.
While Wood won’t keep up that level of efficiency from behind the arc, he looks to be one of the league’s best offensive centers. The Western Conference is deep on elite centers but Wood is poised to make his first All-Star team.
If the Rockets are going to have any chance of making noise this season then they’re going to need Wood to keep playing like a legitimate All-Star. His connection with Harden in the pick and roll has been sublime so far and with the addition of John Wall, he’ll continue to get set up by two elite playmakers.
It has been a long time since Wall graced the court but he made Marcin Gortat, a far inferior offensive center to Wood, a double-double machine. Wood is going to feast on a steady diet of easy buckets at the rim and his 3-point shooting looks to be as good as advertised.
It’ll be impossible to keep a player who is shooting over 50-percent from the field and 40-percent from 3-point range out of the All-Star discussion and Wood looks primed to blow by those benchmarks. Every team in the league is looking for a center that can shoot threes and the Rockets snagged one for a fraction of the price of Danilo Gallinari.
Next: Bold prediction No. 6
#6: Stephen Silas will win coach of the year
Coach of the year is more of a narrative award than it is a performance award. The winner of it isn’t usually the best coach but the coach that is at the helm of a team that exceeds their preseason expectations the most.
The Rockets have created a ready-made narrative for Stephen Silas to claim the award in his first season as an NBA head coach. The franchise spent the entire offseason in crisis mode, shipped out an All-NBA player in Russell Westbrook, had their franchise superstar, James Harden, demand a trade, and before the season could even start had to endure a rash of COVID related absences.
The expectations for the Rockets are low and if they’re in the playoff picture it’ll be too much for the national media to overlook. Silas was dealt a bad hand to begin his career and if he’s able to right the ship he’ll check all the usual boxes for a coach of the year candidate.
However, Silas won’t just be winning the award because of circumstances, he’s a tactical wizard that was a large part of the Dallas Mavericks record-setting offense last season. The Rockets are going to score a ton of points and win a lot of games and Silas will be a large part of that.
The area where Silas will have his work cut out for him is on the defensive end. Through two games the Rockets have given up 118.3 points per 100 possessions which is second-worst in the league.
Some of that is early season noise, the only team who has been worse has been the Boston Celtics who finished with the fourth-best defense per 100 possessions last season, and the Rockets have allowed teams to shoot 43.4-percent from 3-point range.
Teams won’t continue to shoot like peak Stephen Curry all season against the Rockets but due to their roster, this could be their undoing. Expect Silas to get the offense in high gear and the defense just stout enough to secure a playoff berth and himself the Coach of the year award.
Next: Bold prediction No. 5
#5: James Harden will remain a Houston Rocket
Of all the bold predictions this one stands out the most. When was the last time a star player demanded a trade and ended up staying with the franchise? The most famous, and most fruitful, was when Kobe Bryant demanded a trade from the Lakers in 2007.
A deal between the Pistons and the Lakers had been agreed upon and the trade was set to happen until the Lakers’ owner, the late Jerry Buss, got involved and convinced Kobe to stick around who then exercised his no-trade option. The Lakers quickly built a contender around Kobe and won two more championships with him in town and his trade demand faded into the ether.
Tilman Fertitta is not Jerry Buss but at the end of the day keeping Harden is the best decision for the Rockets. The trick will be convincing him that staying is something that he wants to do.
The trade packages that have been offered to the Rockets for Harden have thus far been underwhelming and they won’t move him unless a serious offer is presented this season. The Rockets, in all likelihood, will sit down with Harden and explain the situation to him as it currently stands.
The franchise can’t trade him for what he’s worth right now and if he gives them one more season in Houston they’ll move him in the summer when his trade value will be lower due to his close proximity to free agency. The Rockets are going to hold onto Harden this season and if they win enough games, he might forget that he ever wanted to leave in the first place.
Next: Bold prediction No. 4
#4: The Houston Rockets will finish with a top-six seed
The Western Conference is going to be a bloodbath this season but the Rockets will emerge from the carnage with a top-six seed and avoid the dreaded play-in game. This might seem far-fetched but as long as James Harden is still in town then the Rockets will always have a chance to win 50 games.
The Rockets starting lineup should feature Harden, John Wall, and Christian Wood which gives them a nucleus capable of beating any team. Wall, when last healthy, was an All-Star, Wood looks poised to make his first this season, and Harden has been in the MVP conversation every year for the past half-decade.
How many teams feature a starting lineup with that much talent? Are there six teams in the West that can beat that big-three? The Rockets might not be a favorite to win the title but they are good enough to be one of the six best teams in the conference.
Only aiding the Rockets chances is that the season has started in such a bizarre fashion that their 0-2 record to start hasn’t put them in any sort of a hole. If they win their next game to go to 1-2, they’ll be a game back from the top seed.
The Rockets have the talent to snag a top-six seed and the way the season is shaping up they won’t need to be a world-beater to snag it. This topsy-turvy season is the exact environment for a team to shock the world and the Rockets have what it takes to be that team.
Next: Bold prediction No. 3
#3: John Wall will outplay Russell Westbrook this season
The general consensus of the Rockets and Washington Wizards trade of Russell Westbrook for John Wall was that the Wizards got the better player and it’s not hard to understand why. Wall had missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season and Westbrook had just come off an All-NBA season where he averaged 27.2 points per game.
The boldest prediction yet is that John Wall will have a better season than Russell Westbrook and here are four reasons why. The first thing that Wall has going for him is that time is on his side.
Born on September 6th, 1990, Wall is almost two years younger than Russell Westbrook. If it were 2015, this wouldn’t matter, but when both players have gotten to blow out 30 candles, you always bank on the younger guy out producing the older one.
Both Wall and Westbrook play a style of basketball heavily reliant on athleticism. Wall might have had his injury problems but he looks healthy and explosive and at 30 years old he should still have a few more years of the elite burst that made him one of the most exciting players in the league.
Conversely, Westbrook has looked sluggish and every bit his age to begin the season for the Wizards. He’s attempting the fewest shots of his career at the rim which shows how age is catching up to him.
The second reason is that Westbrook has been so bad to start the season that Wall, by virtue of not playing, has helped his team win more than Westbrook has. Sure, Westbrook has posted three triple-doubles in three games, which outside of looking cool in the box-score doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually playing well.
The Wizards are 0-4 and a large reason for that has been Westbrook’s abysmal play. His offensive rating has been 94 points per 100 possessions. For reference, the league average offensive rating last season was 110.6.
Westbrook’s stat line of 19 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 12.7 assists per game looks fantastic, but he’s shooting 41.4-percent from the field and 10-percent from 3-point range. His poor shooting isn’t the only thing dragging him down, because all of his assists are obscured by his 5.7 turnovers per game.
The third reason why Wall will have a better season than Westbrook is that he’s in a far better environment to succeed. As of right now, the Rockets have a better roster than the Wizards.
Why do players take discounts to go to title contenders? It’s not just about winning, it’s to build up their value around the league. Simply put, you’re going to play better next to LeBron James than Buddy Heild.
The Rockets have a roster that will allow Wall to produce more efficient numbers that Westbrook just won’t. Circumstances aren’t everything but they go a long way in determining a player’s production.
The final reason is quite simple, John Wall is a better player than Russell Westbrook. As mentioned before, Westbrook has started the season quite poorly but that is merely a continuation of a multi-season trend.
Russell Westbrook’s Decline
Season Win Shares per 48 Difference
2016-17: .224 -.021
2017-18: .166 -.058
2018-19: .124 -.042
2019-20: .098 -.026
2020-21: – .0015 -.0965
Even if Westbrook rebounds from his early-season slump it looks as if his days of being an MVP caliber player are long gone. John Wall simply has to be an average player to beat Westbrook’s continuing trend of decline.
The Rockets received a first-round pick from the Wizards and got the better player in return. It doesn’t undo their ill-fated trade to get Westbrook in the first place but it will minimize the long-term pain that keeping him around would have caused.
Next: Bold prediction No. 2
#2: Jae’Sean Tate will make the All-Defense team
The Rockets’ early-season defensive struggles have undone two excellent performances from James Harden but the team should be able to turn it around on that end. If the Rockets are going to become a solid defensive team it’ll start with an All-Defensive team performance from Jae’Sean Tate.
Tate is a 25 year old rookie that spent four seasons at Ohio State and a few seasons overseas before earning his place in the NBA. The 6’4 forward has elite athleticism and strength that should allow him to hound opposing wings and battle with forwards in the paint.
The NBA is all about positional versatility and Tate possesses that on the defensive end. His ability to guard multiple positions will see him take on teams’ best offensive players and give him the recognition he deserves as an elite defender.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/12/28/0022000044/543/a75d1f34-98fd-6803-f722-cab48fc4a16d_1280x720.mp4
Watch as Tate guards the entry pass and then sticks to his man like glue before swatting his shot attempt before he can even rise up and make the shot. The defensive discipline and tenacity he shows on a possession to possession basis are what makes players elite on defense.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/12/26/0022000029/441/f6ccf176-01b0-3474-7dd3-9fddefafc301_1280x720.mp4
Here Tate is guarding Damian Lillard one-on-one, one of the best offensive players in the league, and he absolutely smothers his attempt. Lillard drives to the rim but Tate is able to stay in a good position before smacking away Lillard’s bail-out pass attempt after his move to the rim is denied.
Tate will have his growing pains in the world’s most difficult league but he already can match-up with the best of the best and come out on top. Look for Tate to become one of the league’s best defenders and make the All-Defensive team in his rookie season.
Next: Bold prediction No. 1
#1: The Rockets will reach the Western Conference Finals
The boldest prediction of them all is that the Rockets will reach the Western Conference Finals. Is it crazy? Perhaps, but it is sure as hell a bold prediction.
Why should anyone think the Rockets can reach the Western Conference Finals? It’s simple really. Remember the bold predictions from before.
James Harden stays in Houston, Christian Wood is an All-Star, John Wall outplays Russell Westbrook, Jae’Sean Tate is All-Defense, Stephen Silas is the coach of the year, and the Rockets will finish with a top-six seed. A team with an MVP, two All-Stars, an All-Defensive team member, and an elite coach sounds like a contender for a deep playoff run.
The West is loaded but no one seems likely to run away with anything in a condensed season. Following the NBA lockout in 1999 the New York Knicks were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and went on a run to the NBA finals.
Just last season, the Miami Heat, as the five seed, blitzed their way to the Finals. The point is, in a crazy condensed season anything is possible, which means the Rockets have every chance to make a run to at least the Western Conference Finals.
A lot of things will have to go right for the Rockets, but that’s the case for any team that makes a deep playoff run. The Nuggets were a game away from being eliminated in the first round in only five games before turning it around.
The Raptors won a championship because the Golden State Warriors suffered injuries to two of their four best players. Those same Warriors made it to the NBA finals the season before over the Rockets because of a Chris Paul injury and the worst 3-point shooting stretch in the history of the league.
The Rockets can make the Western Conference Finals and because we’re being bold they will. This concludes seven bold predictions for the Houston Rockets, but never forget, fortune favors the bold.