What if the 2017-18 Houston Rockets were still together: How good would they be in 2020-21?
Determining how good a group of players, who don’t play together, will be is a difficult task and if there was a scientific answer to it every team in the NBA would be able to build their dream roster. It’s impossible to know how a player’s talents will translate next to another player and if their new role will see them flourish or fizzle.
Fortunately, this group of six has already shown that they can fit together with clearly defined roles. The only area where there was ever friction was between James Harden and Chris Paul taking turns as the lead man on offense.
Let’s pretend that there is a new surgical procedure that removes one’s ego and both Harden and Paul go under the knife for the sake of the franchise. Looking at each player’s current statistical output let’s see what we could expect this group to produce.
Using win shares, which approximates the number of wins a single-player contributes, gives a good idea of how well the 2017-18 Rockets top-six players compare to the best teams in the league. Harden leads the way with 4.8, Paul is at 3.7, Capela is at 3.2, Gordon is at 1.4, Tucker is at 0.8, and Ariza posted 2.5 in 53 games last season so he’ll be penciled in at 1.2.
The group has a total of 15.1 win shares this season which easily gets them into the top half of the league, but how do they stack up with the elite teams in the league? Let’s look at the top teams in the league, the Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, Sixers, and Bucks, we’ll discount the Suns and the Nets because they have one of Harden and Paul and wouldn’t in this alternate timeline.
NBA Contender’s Top-Six Total Win Shares
Jazz Lakers Clippers Sixers Bucks Rockets
18.8 16.5 17.3 15.6 18 15.1
The Rockets’ top-three players are relatively equal with all of these contenders, but it’s the bottom-three in their rotation that sees them come up short. The combination of Gordon, Ariza, and Tucker has only produced 3.4 win shares which are well below the other team’s bottom threes that on average have produced 6 win shares.
If the 2017-18 Rockets had stuck together into 2020-21 they’d be right on the outside of contender status. Their top-three of Harden, Paul, and Capela would rival any other team’s but their depth would leave them wanting.
Could this team win a championship? Absolutely, but they’d need to bolster the rest of their roster through trade, free agency, and probably get a little lucky with a developmental piece. The 2017-18 Rockets were an all-time great team, if they’d hung around until today they wouldn’t be quite that good but they’d still be a formidable team in the west.