Houston Rockets 75th Anniversary Team Rank 9 - 7
Russell Westbrook spent one pandemic shortened season with the Rockets and produced some eye-popping stats. Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7 assists, and 7.9 rebounds on the way to his last All-NBA selection. While Westbrook’s traditional metrics looked otherworldly, a cohort of advanced metrics saw him as a player in decline.
If Westbrook had stuck around in Houston for longer he would have done better in the rankings. However, the reason he ranks ninth has to do with the collateral damage he caused the franchise. The Rockets traded Chris Paul, two first-round picks, and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder to land Westbrook. Then to play a style conducive to Westbrook’s strengths they traded Clinta Capela to Atlanta. Then, to get off of Westbrook’s contract, the Rockets had to be saddled with John Wall’s contract. Because of Russell Westbrook, the Rockets turned Chris Paul, Clint Capela, two first-round picks, and two pick swaps into John Wall. Ouch!
Charles Barkley was at the end of his career when he arrived in Houston, but he still had just enough in the tank to make an impact. In his first season in Houston, the trio of him, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler rampaged to 57 wins and the Western Conference Finals. They ended up losing that series in six games, with the final two games being decided by five and three points.
Barkley would continue to decline over the next three seasons as he increasingly found it hard to stay on the court. Chuck averaged 16.5 points and 12.2 boards per game while with Houston. That’s only a disappointment because of the high standard that he set earlier in his career.
Chris Paul lands seventh on the list for one simple reason. He walked into a 55 win team and helped turn them into a 65 win team while giving the Rockets their best chance at a title since Hakeem Olajuwon was still in his prime. Paul’s numbers weren’t fantastic, 17.1 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds per game, but his pulled hamstring is widely considered the reason the Rockets didn’t beat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
There’s a good argument to be made that the 2017-18 Rockets are the best team to not reach the NBA Finals and Paul was instrumental to their success. That team finished with the best record in the league, the best offensive rating, and the sixth-best defensive rating. Paul was shipped out after a tumultuous second season that saw the results on the court slide and his and James Harden’s relationship sour.
Since Paul has left he has elevated both the Thunder and Phoenix Suns to new heights. If he and Harden could have gotten along, he’d rank much higher on this list.