Many were pessimistic about the Houston Rockets heading into the 2023-24 season. Understandably so, because rarely does a team make a drastic turnaround after winning less than 28 percent of their games just one season earlier.
Even more unlikely for said team to make that turnaround after being a bottom dweller for three consecutive years.
The Rockets did their best to bolster their roster, shelling out a combined $215 million to Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, which wasn't generally well-received by the national media. Case in point, Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz.
"Spending big on Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks essentially guarantees both major roles, but Houston can't forget what's truly important here. Does new head coach Ime Udoka play VanVleet and Brooks 35-plus minutes a night trying to chase a play-in spot in a loaded West? Does Brooks think he has the green light on offense jumping from the Memphis Grizzlies to a young Houston team now?"
What about USA Today's Bryan Kalbrosky?
"No team had a more notable yet confusing roster overhaul than the Rockets. It is no longer just a young team trying to tank in Houston with Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks on the roster, but it’s a bit hard to predict if that will impact winning much in the near future."
Four months later, the Rockets find themselves 10th in net rating, third in defensive efficiency, and 10th in the Western Conference with a 9-9 record. And the Brooks/VanVleet tandem has been invaluable for the young Rockets.
Rockets reverse narrative on offseason spending spree.
VanVleet has averaged a career-best 9.1 assists (which ranks fourth in the league) and 16.2 points, while shooting 38 percent from long-range, his best since 2019-20. VanVleet is even tied for 11th in assists-to-turnovers ratio.
Brooks is easily having the best season of his career, posting averages of 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds (career-best), 42.7 percent from three (career-best), 48.4 percent from the field (career-best), and 60.5 percent true shooting (career-best). As for him having the green light on offense, well...he's attempting 10.3 shots per contest, which is his fewest since becoming a starter in the NBA in 2019-20.
Naturally, the narrative has shifted. Check out the following excerpt from Bleacher Report free agency re-evaluation.
"Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks have performed at least as well as expected, with the exception of Brooks' scorching start from the perimeter. He won't shoot 44.1 percent on threes all year, but if Brooks can hit threes at a merely league-average clip all year, his deal will only look better.
One of the offseason's biggest spenders, the Rockets did almost everything right."
The writer mentioned the lack of production from Jock Landale and Jeff Green, which is a bit of a head-scratcher, considering that Green has closed games for the Rockets and been on the floor in crunch time quite regularly. And the writer didn't even mention Aaron Holiday, who is averaging 7.4 points and is nearly in the 50/40/90 club (50 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent from three, 85.7 percent from the charity stripe) and has been MUCH better than expected.
In fact, Holiday has been the best shooter on the Rockets (although Dillon Brooks is right behind him).
All told, the fact that the Rockets have already put this narrative to bed says alot about Ime Udoka, as he's implemented his vision and has been able to get the group to buy-in to his plan.
Or maybe because the Rockets were counted out too quickly, based on their free agent signings.