It's been a wonderful season for the Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets' season effectively came to an end last night
The Houston Rockets' season effectively came to an end last night / Tim Warner/GettyImages

It's over.

It isn't over, but - it's over. After a harrowing loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets are effectively eliminated from play-in contention.

Sure, it's technically possible. The Warriors could lose every game for the rest of the season. The Rockets could win every game. You saw last night's contest - that isn't going to happen.

It's over.

It was beautiful.

If you enjoyed the last three seasons, you're sick. You're a masochist, and you should seek help. Sure, there were moments. In the aggregate, there's been a lot of pain.

So, an 11-game winning streak came like a breath of fresh air in a carbon dioxide factory. The Rockets are 38-38. In all likelihood, they'll finish in that vicinity.

If you expected more, you expected too much.

The Houston Rockets are on the right trajectory

Let's say the Rockets finish at 40-42. Go take a look at last year's standings. By god:

That was the Oklahoma City Thunder's record last season.

This isn't a 1:1 comparison. The Rockets spent roughly $60 million on Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. Give the Thunder credit - this is a textbook example of organic growth.

OK? Is the goal to build a contender through the draft? Or, is the goal to build a contender?

Suppose the Rockers go nuclear. Say they trade this entire young core for a superstar and an All-Star. Imagine they win the 2025-26 championship.

Sure, they'll lose some brownie points with hipsters on X. Nobody is losing any sleep. That's not to say that the Rockets should go nuclear:

They should invest in this young core for the time being.

Houston Rockets leaned on youth movement

You could make the case that Fred VanVleet was Houston's best player this year. That's fine. He's an 8-year NBA veteran. VanVleet is a former NBA champion. The fact that he didn't run away with that distinction should be enough.

If there is internal competition, Alperen Sengun made VanVleet's life difficult. He narrowly led this team in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) this year. Sengun was at 3.5, and VanVleet was at 3.4.

When Sengun got injured, VanVleet didn't carry an incredible March. That was Jalen Green. He averaged 27.7 points per game on a staggering 61.3% True Shooting % (TS%) over the month.

Strength of schedule? Yes. It was weak. Listen closely: the Rockets won 11 games in a row. They finished 13-2. Jalen Green looked like a superstar the whole time.

That has to mean something. It cannot mean nothing.

Does it mean that the Houston Rockets have their franchise player?

Houston Rockets future is bright, but still murky


Alperen Sengun defends the pick-and-roll like it's his best friend knocking at his door - "Come on in". Jalen Green is the least efficient volume scorer in the NBA this side of Jordan Poole, only he sporadically morphs into the most efficient volume scorer in the NBA.

Amen Thompson can't shoot or dribble. Jabari Smith Jr. looks like a lock as a quality starter, but he's given little indication of star upside. Cam Whitmore passes the ball like it kills a little piece of his soul every time - his 0.9 assists per 75 possessions is a comical number.

At the same time...

Alperen Sengun is a virtuoso. He anchored a top-10 defense for most of this season. If he can develop a reliable three-ball, he can be one of the best offensive players in the NBA.

Jalen Green has the quickest first step in the NBA - his ability to create separation is elite. It's what Green does with that separation that can be problematic. His finishing has been tremendous after the All-Star break, and we'll see if the shooting regresses.

Amen Thompson is a basketball computer operating inside of a cyborg. He may be the best athlete in the NBA, and he's one of the smartest players in the league as well. He's a virtual lock to make multiple All-Defensive teams if nothing else.

Tari Eason could do the same. The Rockets were without him for most of the year. If he'd been available, the stakes may not have been as high last night:

The Rockets could have already secured their play-in spot. Instead, it's over:

For now.